Chalk this one up as a win for Trump, and ironically, a loss for the NFL.
On Wednesday, the NFL announced that it was instituting a new policy regarding the national anthem. Essentially, players must stand for the anthem, but if they feel they aren’t up to the task, they can remain in the locker room until it’s over. This is something President Trump spoke a great deal about in public. He tweeted his disapproval over the lack of respect being shown during the anthem by the players, and millions of Americans agreed with him. Although he isn’t in favor of every part of the rule (he said on FoxNews this morning, “I don’t think people should be staying in the locker rooms, but still I think it’s good.”), he essentially put enough public pressure on the league to make something happen. The NFL (wisely) saw that they would stand to lose many millions more if they let the charade go on, unchallenged. This resolution takes a strong stance against the unacceptable behavior of players with political bones to pick. It also penalizes teams that fail to enforce this policy, doubling down on the owners’ belief that it’s irresponsible to allow the conduct to continue. The publicity stunts must be done on the players’ own time.
Hey, if someone wants to protest something, they have a right to do so. On the same hand, however, businesses don’t have to let them do it while they’re on the clock. With that being said, the NFL made it pretty easy for these people who are complaining about stuff to get away from the limelight, and don’t get confused: the limelight does not belong to the players, it belongs to the owners and the team. When things go badly, the owners have to pay the bills. Likewise, when things go well, they reap bigger rewards. The players don’t have a right to play for the owners and teams, and when they start pretending they have a ‘right’ to kneel, they are forgetting that game-time doesn’t belong to them.
In reality, the NFL isn’t doing itself any favors by this policy. The NBA, for example, requires players to be on the court and standing for the national anthem. According to the rule book:
Players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the National Anthem.
The NBA doesn’t give the teams a choice. That’s a smart move, by the way. It takes away the ability of rogue players to bring a bad name to their respective league. Now, common sense, national pride, and a respect for traditions should teach you to stand, take off your cap, and put your hand over your heart. Clearly some of the players didn’t have those things instilled within them by loving and instructive fathers, so the the NBA had to step in. Now before you go on and complain that some of the fans don’t show respect, you’re right, but they also aren’t being paid a wonderful salary to represent the league. That’s a huge difference.
The NFL, in an attempt to please both the fans and the renegade players, has given the teams an option, but you know what’s going to happen when football season starts up on September 6? There will be some big-name player who isn’t on the field during the anthem, and this conversation is going to reset all over again. The NFL thought it was putting the issue to rest, but in reality it is just kicking the can down the road. Also, who’s to say that some players won’t perform some other stunt on the field, bringing even more negative attention to the disastrous situation. I can imagine players doing all sorts of ridiculous tricks to get attention, and isn’t that exactly what the NFL is trying to avoid? If the owners had truly wanted to put an end to the chaos, they would have made a very clear, very specific rule. It would have read something like this:
Players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines. Their right hands must be over their hearts during the course of the national anthem. No unusual public displays, protests or disputes make take place an hour before, during, or an hour after kickoff. All players, coaches and trainers must be on the field during the national anthem, with exceptions made to stay in the locker rooms only for medical reasons, as verified by a physician.
Now that is a highly specific, highly tailored solution to a problem the NFL is half-heartedly attempting to solve.
What this really boils down to is the fact that some people don’t like company rules. It bothers them that they can’t have what they want, when they want it, all while cherry-picking which rules they will follow and which ones they won’t. When the owner of a team, for instance, says that you can’t ride a motorcycle and play for the team, the players shrug and say ‘oh well, at least I’m making that money’. And boy-oh-boy are they making that money. The average NFL salary is $2.1 million (and that’s an old statistic from 2015).
If the NFL wants to finally clean up this mess, they would pass a rule somewhere along the lines of the one I just made up about 20 seconds ago. They could put this thing to rest and move on to expanding the NFL’s reach overseas, making games more watchable, and engaging the fans in new ways. But until they can do that, they will continue to see more of the same.
And that means they will continue to lose.