National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell finally did it!! Roger Goodell said to hell with NFL financial sponsors, team owners, misinformed fans, and President Trump. It was long overdue and clearly the right thing to do, now Roger Goodell must continue the NFL’s forward progress by doing 2 remaining right things.
Last week the world-wide positive after-effects of the police murder of George Floyd infected the NFL, it started Thursday when Saquon Barkley, Tyrann Mathieu, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham Jr., Patrick Mahomes, Ezekiel Elliott, Chase Young, Deshaun Watson, and many other NFL players appeared in and released a video that said:
It’s been 10 days since George Floyd was brutally murdered. How many times do we need to ask you to listen to your players? What will it take? For one of us to be murdered by police brutality? What if I was George Floyd? I am George Floyd. I am Breonna Taylor. I am Ahmaud Arbery. I am Eric Garner. I am Laquan McDonald. I am Tamir Rice. I am Trayvon Martin. I am Walter Scott. I am Michael Brown Jr. I am Samuel DuBose. I am Frank Smart. I am Phillip White. I am Jordan Baker.
We will not be silenced. We assert our right to peacefully protest. It shouldn’t take this long to admit. So, on behalf of the National Football League, this is what we, the players, would like to hear you state: We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We, the National Football League, admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting. We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter.
The players were not only motivated by the horrific George Floyd police murder but also by the NFL’s lackluster pro forma written statement it had released the previous Saturday. To his credit after hearing the NFL player’s clarion call for acknowledgment and change, Roger Goodell realized the inadequacy of the NFL’s initial written statement and released his own video, recorded from the basement of his home, of himself saying:
“ We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.
We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter. I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country. Without black players, there would be no National Football League. And the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality, and oppression of black players, coaches, fans, and staff.”
This seemingly heartfelt statement by Roger Goodell was a crucial first step. But to repair the NFL’s lapse of judgment in how it responded to players exercising their constitutional protest rights, and for the statement by Roger Goodell to have any meaningful substance, 2 additional steps must be taken. The 2 steps are:
1) Establish Clear NFL Protest Rules
As I mentioned in a previous column technically the NFL’s new national anthem policy does not prohibit a player’s 1st Amendment Rights. Because the policy only establishes the location and time when a player can exercise their 1st Amendment free speech rights but does not prevent them from doing so. Federal court decisions have ruled that a government, which would be the NFL in this case, may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner a citizen can exercise free speech by establishing free speech zones but cannot regulate the content of the free speech.
One criticism of free speech zones is that the ruling authority can locate them out of sight of the media and away from public view. The out of sight location, and the NFL’s attempt to regulate content, by an over-emphasis on the FALSE premise that by kneeling during the national anthem one is showing disrespect to the American flag, are the 2 main problems with the NFL’s national anthem policy that must be addressed by establishing clear NFL protesting rules.
Currently, with the label being the national anthem policy as opposed to the NFL protesting policy, the over-emphasis on showing respect for the American flag, and the NFL’s obsession with the opinion of President Trump’s view of how to demonstrate American patriotism, the players’ 1st Amendment free speech rights appear to be non-existent. The rules of the national anthem policy are:
1) All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
2) The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the anthem.
3) Personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the anthem has been performed.
4) A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
5) Each club may develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles, regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
6) The commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
At a minimum, if Roger Goodell and the NFL want to leave the national anthem policy in place, it needs to be tweaked to require that all NFL TV, radio, and internet play-by-play game announcers state immediately before or immediately after the anthem, which players are not present for the anthem and why they chose to remain in the locker room. Or Roger Goodell and the NFL could establish a formal protest policy allowing kneeling along with other non-disruptive protest tactics, and leave it to players to explain through social media their rationale for protesting.
2) GIVE COLIN KAEPERNICK HIS JOB BACK
Until Colin Kaepernick is rehired by an NFL team, the apology by Roger Goodell and the NFL establishing a protest policy for its players will fall directly on the line separating substantial change from meaningless gestures, with Roger Goodell and the NFL being a ½ step away from crossing over it into meaningless gestures. Even though the NFL refuses to admit it, since Colin Kaepernick chose to take a RESPECTFUL knee to protest policeman killing American Blacks in 2016, he has been blackballed by the NFL for the last 3 seasons, with all 33 NFL teams unwilling to hire him as a quarterback because of his social and political beliefs and not his lack of football skills.
This discrimination and political persecution must be corrected. Roger Goodell must use his immense powers as NFL Commissioner to do so. In 1970 when the National Football League and the American Football League merged it created one league, the NFL, with 2 conferences, the NFC and the AFC, within it. For there to be a balance between the 2 conferences, 3 teams from the NFC needed to switch over to the AFC, to make this happen former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle offered $3 million to each NFC team willing to do so, subsequently the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Colts made the move.
Now Commissioner Goodell should make an offer to any NFL team willing to hire Colin Kaepernick as either the starter or back-up quarterback for 3 years. The offer would be that the NFL will pay 100% of Kaepernick’s salary in the 1st year, 50% in the 2nd year, and 25% in the 3rd year. Such an incentive would guarantee that Kaepernick would have the 3 years the NFL robbed him of, restored.
Roger Goodell took the 1st step with an apology/acknowledgment statement that was sincere, strong, and game-changing, but if he fails to take steps 2 and 3, step 1 will become false, weak, and the NFL status quo meaning to him and the NFL: BLACK LIVES REALLY DON’T MATTER!!!
Isaac Newton Farris Jr. is the nephew of Martin Luther King, Jr. and serves as Senior Fellow at the King Center. Growing up in one of the most socially and politically active families has given him a unique perspective on current events. Drop by his website for straight talk free of one-sided political spin.
Originally published at https://isaacnewtonfarris.com on June 9, 2020.