The NFL Kneels to Trump and His Supporters
Eight months after Donald Trump declared that any player who took a knee in protest was a “son of a bitch,” the National Football League has instituted a draconian new policy concerning those who refuse to stand for the national anthem.
According to new guidelines unveiled Wednesday, players will have the option to remain in the locker room, but their teams will be fined by the league if they elect to kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The plan has the unanimous approval of the league’s owners and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
What punishment will be imposed against protesting players by either their teams or the league was not clear.
“We want people to be respectful of the national anthem,” Goodell told reporters. “We want people to stand—that’s all personnel—and make sure that they treat this moment in a respectful fashion. That’s something I think we owe. We’ve been very sensitive in making sure that we give players choices, but we do believe that that moment is an important moment and one that we are going to focus on.”
The National Football League Players Association—the labor union representing the league’s players—issued a withering response, denouncing the league’s policy and hinting at legal action.
“The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new ‘policy,’ ” it said in a statement. “NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about. … Our union will review the new ‘policy’ and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.”
The implications of this protest protocol have not been lost on the American Civil Liberties Union, which similarly decried the NFL’s actions as “un-American.” In a series of tweets Wednesday afternoon, the organization cautioned that the league risks setting a dangerous precedent for other prominent, private institutions.
— ACLU (@ACLU) May 23, 2018
The NFL players’ protests have never been about the military or the flag. They’re about police brutality and white supremacy. Failing to protest injustice in America is not patriotic, it’s dangerous. #TakeAKnee
— ACLU (@ACLU) May 23, 2018
The timing of the NFL’s announcement is curious, to say the least. Earlier this week, multiple reports indicated that new evidence undermines the NFL’s defense against collusion charges made by Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who began the national anthem protest. ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio reveals that several teams viewed the one-time National Football Conference champion—who has been out of the league since 2016—as an NFL starter when he became a free agent last year. Kaepernick was set to try out for the Seattle Seahawks this spring, but his invitation was rescinded under vague circumstances related, at least in part, to his refusal to guarantee that he would not participate in future demonstrations.
When Kaepernick first knelt during the national anthem in 2016 he was not protesting Trump’s presidential candidacy, but rather police brutality and systemic racism. In fact, it was U.S. Army veteran Nate Boyer who originally persuaded him to take a knee—a detail willfully ignored or forgotten by the quarterback’s baying critics on the right.
The NFL’s latest decision exposes not just the lengths to which the league is willing to appease the president’s base but the corrosive effect his political rise has had on civil society.