One of the most contentious issues in football over the course of the past two years has been one that has nothing to do with the actual game, an unfortunate fact that all fans have had to muddle through in some form or fashion.
Controversy over political protests during the playing of the national anthem prior to games has been an undercurrent of the National Football League during that time, but it really came to a head over the course of the past year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers almost literally stumbled into a front-and-center position of the debate during their Week Three visit to Chicago. Just days prior to the game, President Donald Trump had harsh words for NFL players that drew strong reactions across the league and saw even entire teams, including owners, participate in a protest against the President’s criticisms.
The Steelers hoped to avoid getting involved, with Head Coach Mike Tomlin giving his team the opportunity to come to a mutual agreement about how to handle it, but we know what happened after that. Their own plan was bungled and caused a massive spectacle. Players admitted that it was a distraction during the game, which they lost.
All of this sets the table for where we now find ourselves. The owners passed a policy in May that allows teams to discipline players who protest during the anthem, but also allows players to stay off the field during it.
Art Rooney II yesterday admitted that “it was an attempt at a compromise”, but suggests that it wasn’t enough. “In order for the league to have a uniform policy, I believe the Players Association needs to be at the table in order to get it done”.
For his part, the team President said that he is “encouraged” about the recent developments in that regard, with the NFL and the NFLPA “engaged in these talks to come to a resolution”. The two parties recently agreed a standstill on implementation and enforcement of the policy while they hold talks on the matter. The NFLPA was not given any input when the policy was passed in May.
“When you’re dealing with players, the owners, and the union, everybody wants to be on the same page, and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about”, Steelers player representative Ramon Foster said. “For the owners to come to agreement to talk about it, I think nothing but positive can come out of it”.
Indeed, word from the Steelers’ side was universally optimistic in this regard, from player to owner to coach. Tomlin also called the talks “a very positive step in terms of moving on from [the anthem controversy] in 2018”.
He speaks for most of us, I’m sure, when he said, “I think we’re all ready” to move on. “We’re excited to see where those talks go and conclude, and we’ll be ready to move forward with the rest of the National Football League with that agreement”.
Whatever the policy ends up being, it will be all the better when it has become a product of all parties involved.