LA Chargers NFL National Anthem
June 7, 2018
The NFL needs to take a stand.
The NFL just wants to be loved. In a recent Gallup poll, American football was picked by 37% of U.S. adults as their favorite sport to watch. The next-most-popular sports are basketball, favored by 11%, and baseball, favored by 9%.
Americans love football. Networks and advertisers also love the NFL. In 2017, the NFL generated $14 billion in revenue, easily the best in professional sports. Major league baseball generated just over $10 billion; the NBA generated $7.4 billion. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he would like the league to reach $25 billion by 2027. They look to be on the way.
For these reasons, the NFL has become a conservative, reactive league. The league wants to protect this “cash cow” and usually is risk averse. They were slow to address issues like spousal abuse and concussion concerns. The players know it.
As San Francisco 49er cornerback Richard Sherman stated: “We really don’t have reason to trust the NFL. At the end of the day, they’re going to do what they have to do to make their money and to make as much money as they can for the owners.”
Which takes us to the latest NFL controversy, also known as the national anthem issue. The previous policy required players to be on the field for the anthem but said only that they "should" stand. When then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling in 2016 to protest social injustice, the NFL did not respond. A few other players joined Kaepernick in the protests.
President Donald Trump, on a campaign tour in Alabama in September of 2017, became the catalyst for the protest against the NFL when he said: “Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a b**** off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired.”
The President was playing politics with the national anthem issue and it was working with his supporters and some NFL fans. The league spent the rest of the 2017 season grappling with the anthem issue. Which led the NFL to decide two weeks ago to implement a new national anthem policy, in the hopes of winning back some loss fans and appeasing the President.
After all, the NFL just wants to be loved. The new policy states that all players on the field when the national anthem is heard before a game must stand. The alternative is to remain in the locker room without penalty. Teams will be subject to a fine if a player disobeys the new policy.
While the move is in response to dozens of players who knelt as a form of protest over social justice issues over the last two seasons, the guidelines aren't specific about what constitutes a sign of disrespect directly toward the anthem. The amount of the fine was also unclear.
The new NFL policy has already come under fire by critics and it now appears that the league was trying to mislead people about its support among team owners. The vote was described as a formal unanimous vote by owners. It turned out that it was an informal vote and it was not unanimous.
Both Mark Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders, and Jed York, owner of the San Francisco 49ers, abstained from the vote. Chris Johnson, the chairman of the New York Jets, went so far as to say he would pay fines imposed on his players under the new NFL national-anthem policy.
The problem with the new NFL policy is that it did not resolve the national anthem issue for the NFL. The players were unhappy because they were not involved. President Trump was not appeased. He wants all the players on the field with their hands on their heart. The President was not going away.
Trump told Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that the national anthem issue “… is a very winning, strong issue for me. Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.” As he tweeted out recently: "Honoring America! NFL, no escaping to Locker Rooms!"
This is also an issue that the NFL would not win in the courts. In 1943, the Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to force students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. The ACLU argues that the same principle applies today:
“Nearly 75 years ago, the Supreme Court rightly held that state schools have no business forcing students to stand for patriotic rituals. The court also reminded public school administrators that part of their job is to train students for participation in our free society. This principle holds no less true today, and no less true on the playing field than it does in the classroom,” said the ACLU. This decision had come during the height of World War II.
The right thing for the players to do is to stand at attention for the national anthem, as players do in other professional sports. Keep the politics out of the sport. Millions of fans, liberal and conservative, come together each Sunday during the NFL season to cheer on their favorite teams. The football field is not a place for the culture wars.
The more intelligent response is for the players and the NFL to work in the communities to improve the lives of others, to make a difference. Use the example of the Super Bowl Champions, the Philadelphia Eagles. They work in the community to make a difference, and they stood every Sunday at attention for the national anthem.
What they would not do is meet with the President at the White House to celebrate their championship. Because the players love their country. They don’t love their President. When the White House realized that only a couple of Eagle players would accept the invitation, they canceled the traditional event. The NFL should learn from the players. Stand up to the bully.