The NFL owners passed a new measure allowing players to protest during the national anthem by not going out onto the field at all. Those who do go out will have to stand or face disciplinary action. This doesn’t make sense.
The NFL clearly believes it has a problem. Or at the very least, owners are looking to squash this conversation about anthem protests, which is why they’re looking to change the rules around the national anthem at all.
If they see no problems, why change the rule?
And change it they did on Wednesday, in a TK-TK vote, owners decided to allow players to stay in the locker room during the anthem as a form of protest, while mandating players on the field to stand. Clearly the league wants the discussion over anthem protests to go away. The problem here is this may be a compromise in a sense, but it’s not a solution.
Reasonable people can disagree to what extent players trying to raise awareness for civil rights during the national anthem is a problem, but your opinion doesn’t matter to the NFL. At least not the way it probably should.
Fans aren’t turning off the TV in droves over these protests and the player who initiated them is no longer in the league. His teammate, who kneeled with him, likewise can’t find employment. But the team whose players have spoken out the loudest just won the Super Bowl.
As my former SI colleague Don Banks was fond of saying, this is a solution in search of a problem.
But let’s assume the NFL is right and making this go away is important for the league (it’s not). This rule change doesn’t accomplish that goal. If anything, it does the opposite. How can the league expect reporters not to care who is on the field and who isn’t? And isn’t that the point?
From the press box at just about every game, there were tweets from journalists covering the game about who was kneeling. This will absolutely continue with players not out on the field. And the fans who were pissed off about the kneeling will be just as pissed off about staying in the locker room, maybe even more.
Plus, what’s the point of a protest if no one knows you’re doing it? If a player stays in the locker room to protest and no one talks about it, how effective is that protest? The literal point is to be noticed, to raise awareness about police brutality and civil rights and taking down the institutional structures that disproportionately punish people of color in America.
It’s still a protest during the national anthem and the optics are actually worse than kneeling. It’s not hard to imagine the callers into talk radio and on conservative outlets about players who don’t even want to be in the presence of the American flag or the anthem. They can’t even be bothered to come out and stand for our country?
The NFL took a problem that wasn’t really a problem and instituted a solution that could exacerbate the tensions between some fans and the league.
Dialogue around these protests will continue, which is good for those protesting. They’ll continued to be asked about it by reporters, and likely be skewered on talk radio and right-wing platforms. All the NFL really changed was the venue. From a mechanics standpoint, players will still protest, reporters will still mention those protesting, and some fans will still be upset about it.
What really changed besides the NFL getting to say it did something about it?
The move has always been to simply keep the teams in the locker room for the anthem. One of the reasons fans feel so strongly about these protests stems from a visceral reaction to the anthem itself and the performance. It’s a dramatic moment with flyovers and veterans on the field, celebrating lost heroes etc.
In an effort to try and have its DoD cake and eat it too, the NFL didn’t make any material changes to circumstances it finds precarious for the league. If anything, this will only embolden players who feel as though the league is attempting to silence them by keeping them in the locker room.
Is President Trump not going to go after players in the league now? Is conservative talk radio going to stop calling protesters unpatriotic? Those themes could have faded from view so long as the league stopped antagonizing everyone involved.
Instead they created a solution in search of a problem and just may have found a new problem of their own making.