We thought that the biggest story in the league in May was going to be about the new kickoff rule. Then the NFL suddenly passed a new rule, which you all know about by now, regarding conduct during the national anthem. The NFLPA and its executive director, DeMaurice Smith, were not amused.
The players union issued a statement after the ruled was announced stating in part that they intend to “challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement”, and Smith elaborated further during an interview on ESPN.
He noted that the rule is not in the spirit of the conversations that he and players had with the likes of Commissioner Roger Goodell and with John Mara during the course of the 2017 season. Those conversations reflected “their desire to make sure that they were going to respect the rights of players to protest and express their voice”, he said.
He was asked what he was hearing from the players in response to the rule. He said they were wondering, “why would we have meetings between players and owners and players and the union and owners for months on the issue of social justice” only to see this rule be the outcome.
“They clearly chose not to involve the player union and not to involve player leadership in coming up with this rule”, Smith said. “The fact that it appears as if it was haphazard at best suggests to me that this was more of a desperate attempt by a group of owners to simply quote-unquote ‘get back to playing football’ rather than to honestly, and with a sense of what America means, to sit down and figure what’s the right thing to do. What I think they did was they sat down and tried to figure out, ‘what can we get away with as quickly as possible?’”.
Smith also said when asked if he felt that the players and their union ultimately had any input in the creation of this rule, which Goodell and the league announced as a “compromise” decision. As to what role they served, he had a one-word response: “nothing”. He also said that they were not made aware of the rule and sooner than anybody else, learning of it when it was made public.
“I think at the end of the day, the worst thing with this rule is what it does for the speech and the freedom of people to express themselves, and that speech is the same speech that allows people to protest, but it’s the same freedom of speech that allows or protects someone to salute the flag”, the executive director went on. “When you make a broad-brushed, haphazard rule like that, I don’t know whether they appreciated those results, but that is exactly what they have now done”.
The rule has elicited strong opinions by individuals on both sides of the fence; however, one aspect of the conversation that I feel should receive universal agreement is that the NFL should have made greater effort to directly include the voices of player representatives and their union in the formulation of this rule, if not simply because the manner in which it was rolled out have been very negatively received in some corners for that reason.