The NFL didn’t have to do something to address the national anthem policy with respect to its players. It chose to, and not out of a sense of duty to country, but to corporate interests. And that’s fine as long as it’s treated for what it is.
This was a token gesture aimed toward protecting the league’s market, not about mandating patriotism, which is an oxymoron. Forced displays of patriotism are more about the force than the patriotism, and is antithetical to the ideals of a nation built on the idea of individual liberty.
All the league effectively did was to deflect responsibility away from the corporate headquarters and toward the individual teams. Under the new rules, it will be up to each individual organization to create their own policy as it pertains to conduct related to participation in the national anthem.
This allows the league to say that anything that happens isn’t their fault. It’s up to the teams. If they let their players kneel, or if they punish players for kneeling, either way they will come under fire from one side of the political aisle or the other.
The thing is, the NFL is probably making a mistake if they think this is actually going to keep them out of the line of fire. While it was a nice little victory for President Donald Trump to see the league capitulate with even a token gesture, that is not actually going to stop people from criticizing the players or the league, or from tuning out.
As if that wasn’t enough, the league managed to add even further ambiguity into the rulebook entirely unnecessarily. The very first point in the new rule states that personnel on the field must “stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem”.
Couldn’t they simply leave it at stand? Stand at attention or with your hand over your heart? Instead they now have to spend the offseason figuring out what they mean when they say showing respect for the flag and the anthem. They have already admitted that this isn’t defined yet. We’re still trying to figure out what a catch is and now we’re going to tackle respect. While we’re at it, let’s define courage and justice and love as well.
The fact that the league did all of this without serious input from the players could turn out to be an issue for them, especially in light of the fact that they framed it as a ‘compromise’. But who exactly were they compromising with? It sounds like their partner was their CEOs, not their players.
Ultimately, they are hoping to accomplish only one thing: removing protests from the sights of the viewers by keeping those players who protest in the locker room. Of course that entirely misses the point of what a protest is, but that was not the interest they were looking to preserve.
As long as that is achieved, I think the NFL can live with wherever all the other chips fall, because they’re gambling on that being their biggest obstacle when it comes to dealing with the anthem. They now can say to the boycotters, ‘look, we’ve tried to do something, you can come back now’.
But they might not be so lucky. Fines (for the teams by the league, or for the players by the teams) are not going to prevent every player from raising a fist or locking arms, or even kneeling, out on the field. The new rule and the way it was trotted out as a compromise is actually seemingly encouraging more players to take action. Players who previously were not considering it.
There were a number of different ways the league could have handled this situation that would have reached a more satisfying result for all parties. They chose one of the worse paths available to them, a key part of which was not involving the player representatives in the dialogue and them calling it a compromise plan.