Just a few years ago, the United States National Anthem was not considered to be controversial in the least. Insert Colin Kaepernick who started kneeling during the anthem to bring awareness against social injustice to minorities in the 2016 season. When asked why he refused to stand for the anthem during a pre-season game he explained, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. … There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” This initial protest and statement created a firestorm over the next two seasons where many players and even entire teams decided to join Kaepernick’s protest.
At the end of last season, though, the issue had virtually disappeared. Seemingly very few, if anyone, was kneeling anymore and media coverage was insignificant compared to the firestorm from earlier in the season. The NFL and its owners took it upon themselves, though to unnecessarily, in my opinion, re-ignite this political hot button with the following new league rules:
The 32 member clubs of the National Football League have reaffirmed their strong commitment to work alongside our players to strengthen our communities and advance social justice. The unique platform that we have created is unprecedented in its scope, and will provide extraordinary resources in support of programs to promote positive social change in our communities.
The membership also strongly believes that:
- 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.
This statement ignited another firestorm from players, NFLPA, the media, and about everyone with a social media account. Why did the league and owners feel compelled to issue this new policy and was it necessary? Did the league get it right with the rule change or did it make a complicated situation even more complex?
It is my opinion that everyone should want to stand with respect to the National Anthem and our flag. I take great pride in the fact that I am blessed to live in the greatest country on earth who has been a beacon of freedom for the rest of the world.
That said, my opinion is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. The only opinion(s) that ultimately matter on this topic is the 32 owners in the NFL, and they unanimously voted to confirm this new policy. It has been called out that these owners are suppressing free speech and it is unconstitutional.
While the first amendment is the bedrock of our society, the owners are completely within their rights. You see when they go to work there are company personal conduct guidelines, same as every American working today. These policies dictate what we can and cannot do, where we can do them, and when.
Ultimately if the boss (owners) says not to kneel during the anthem, you don’t kneel. If the boss is ok or embraces it, then the worker (player) is well within his right to exercise his free speech. That is not the case in the NFL today.
Through it all the league probably didn’t really need to impose this new policy; as the subject seemed to take care of itself after fizzling out after last season. Instead it brought new life to this old subject, and it has seemed to further galvanize peoples opinion of the issue.
Through it all it is easy to forget that these players are employees, and as a result, they choose to willingly give up certain rights in order to work for said organization. These are the new rules, and as long as the owners hold this line the players must adhere to the new guidelines. With that said, I believe it is important to get back to why we watch the NFL at all, and get back to simply rooting for our favorite teams in a sport that transcends every political belief on the spectrum. In that spirit, “GO BUCS!”