NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has issued the ruling from on high, stating that all players “shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem”. In doing so, the NFL is doing what the flag, the national anthem, and the principles they represent allow them to do. But if the NFL is making its players “show respect”, then the NFL itself must “show respect” for the flag and the national anthem by now doing the right thing!!!
Last week NFL owners approved a new NFL anthem policy that requires players to stand if they are on the field during the performance but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if they prefer. The new policy a first in NFL history, consists of the following 6 points:
- All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
- The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the anthem.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
President Trump has used the kneeling issue to fire up his base of voters, most news pundits give the President credit for making the owners adopt the new stand for the anthem policy
NFL headquarters is well within its employer rights to impose these workplace rules. But when it comes to the NFL’s emphasis on “show respect for the flag and the national anthem”, the NFL experience for its football players is do as the NFL league says not as the NFL league does!
Last week NFL owners voted to fine teams whose players do not stand for the national anthem while they are on the field. The new policy does not force athletes to stand on the sideline during the anthem; it gives them the option of staying in the locker room during the pregame ceremony. This is the NFL’s attempt to find middle ground on an issue that has divided fans, players, team owners, financial sponsors, and President Trump since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem to protest police violence against minorities 2 years ago.
This middle ground attempt is the best solution because at the end of the day NFL football is a for-profit business, and like any for-profit business it must tailor its product to boost NFL attendance and viewership. What the NFL is attempting to do with this new policy, is no different than what all American businesses did when they stopped wishing America “Merry Christmas” and instead started wishing America “Seasons Greetings”.
American businesses recognized that the religious demographics of America have changed white Christians, once the dominant religious group in the U.S., now account for fewer than half of all adults living in the country. Not wanting to offend the growing number of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, religiously unaffiliated and atheist, American businesses chose an option that would not offend anyone’s non-Christian religion.
Christmas is a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, saying “Merry Christmas” is an acknowledgment of the birth being an act of their Christian God. For Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists who have their own God, and atheists who have no God, proclaiming “Merry Christmas” is at worst offensive to their religious or non-religious beliefs and at best fails to acknowledge their non-Christian beliefs. Proclaiming “Seasons Greetings” was American businesses way of saying we acknowledge the importance of Christmas to Christians, but we are not favoring Christianity over any other faith and have no opinion on the truth or non-truth of it or of any other faith. This option satisfied everyone because although non-Christians and atheist don’t adhere to the Christian faith they do adhere to the principle of respect for a religion different than their own.
The NFL is not denying players their 1stamendment rights
By mandating that everyone on the field must stand for the national anthem the NFL, like any other business, is choosing the option that offends no one. Last time I checked no one is offended by anyone standing for the national anthem, but a lot of people are offended by an NFL player kneeling or sitting for the national anthem. But more importantly, by making players stand for the anthem, the NFL has not denied the players their 1stamendment rights of free speech and protest. Because the players have the option of not being on the field during the anthem.
All the NFL did was change the protest location not the right to protest. In fact, they have clearly defined and given players a legitimate way to express their protest view on a matter at hand. Now that this has become the issue that it is, a player’s absence during the national anthem will now draw as much attention as the players kneeling did. All a player needs to do is tweet out his protest ahead of the game, and then sit it out in the locker room during the anthem while the cameras show live the players’ absence.
The difference now is no fans have to feel that the symbol of their country is being disrespected, but a players’ protest is still front and center now drawing attention to his protest caused by his absence and not by his kneeling presence. If the new policy made it mandatory for players to be on the field during the national anthem without the ability to kneel, then the NFL would be guilty of denying players their 1stamendment rights.
But the NFL defining where their players must protest is no different than a city hosting a political convention, and restricting protestors to a confined area located off-site and blocks away from the facility hosting the convention. While the protesters might not be happy with their location their right to speech is not denied.
The NFL itself is not showing respect for the flag and the national anthem
The NFL as an institution is showing the ultimate disrespect for the flag and the national anthem. Our flag and national anthem represent the principles of the American constitution that Martin Luther King Jr reminded America of during the Civil Rights Movement, that America’s greatness was an American citizens’ right to protest for rights. The NFL is showing disrespect for the right of protest and so, therefore, is showing disrespect for American democracy.
The NFL’s show of disrespect for American democracy is demonstrated by Colin Kaepernick’s banishment from the NFL. Since the last NFL games of the 2016 season, Kaepernick has not had a quarterback job with any of the 32 NFL teams. Some like Dieter Kurtenbach of Fox Sports has claimed he simply isn’t good enough to play, but that’s contrary to what NFL coaches who know the game say.
“He’s a starter in this league,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Kaepernick in June of 2017. “We have a starter, but he is a starter in this league and I can’t imagine somebody won’t give him a chance to play.” Broncos general manager John Elway says Denver was interested in trading for the quarterback in 2016 but money disagreements prevented a deal.
NFL careers should never be affected by football players exercising their rights as American citizens. None of the 32 NFL teams have hired Kaepernick since he exercised his 1stamendment right to protest police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem. In other words, Kaepernick is denied a job because he exercised a basic American right of free speech, one of the main principles America was founded on. To add insult to injury in 2016, when he exercised his 1stamendment right there was no NFL kneeling protest rule. So Kaepernick was not even in violation of league rules when he exercised his American right.
Now that the NFL has rules designating where players can protest the issue or fear of hiring Kaepernick should be moot. If Kaepernick is hired now he can freely protest and call attention to his cause while sitting in the locker room during the national anthem. If he violates the new rule and kneels on the field he can justifiably be fined or fired for breaking NFL rules, and not for exercising a 1st Amendment right.
If the National Football League is the American democracy loving institution it claims to be, it must practice what it preaches, or in this case, show the same respect for American democracy that it is forcing its football players to show. The NFL cannot proclaim itself to be a law-abiding patriotic respecter of the flag, national anthem, or American democracy until it does the right thing by hiring Colin Kaepernick back as a quarterback!
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.