Originally Published: June 5, 2018 10:04 p.m.
After spending months in discussions, NFL owners announced a compromise that, according to them, will end a two-year run of player national anthem protests. As biographer James Boswell wrote in the Life of Samuel Johnson, the NFL owners’ so-called “compromise” is little more than a triumph of hope over experience.
The new policy, heralded as a unanimous vote that post-announcement comments by a number of owners makes clear was anything but, requires players to stand for the national anthem when they are on the field.
However, the league gave players the option to remain in the locker room until after the anthem is performed. The NFL retained the authority to fine teams if a player does not show respect for the anthem. That would include sitting or kneeling during the performance as dozens of players have done since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick initiated the practice during the 2016 season. Teams that incur fines will in turn have the option to fine the violators.
In defense of the new policy, Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “We want people to be respectful of the national anthem. We want people to stand — that’s all personnel — and make sure they treat this moment in a respectful fashion. That’s something we think we owe. [But] we were also very sensitive to give players choices.”
Ironically, the NFL had taken steps to support the issues that had fueled the protests — police brutality and social injustices involving African-Americans. Earlier this year owners and players held joint meetings to discuss ways to work together to address those topics. In fact, just days before adopting the new anthem policy the league announced an $89 million social justice platform with the Players Coalition. So much for cooperation between the parties.
The new policy was adopted as part of the NFL’s Game Operations Manual in an effort to avoid being subject to collective bargaining with the players. Whether that position can survive a potential legal challenge by the union remains to be seen. What we do know is neither the NFLPA nor any individual players were involved in crafting the new requirement.
The new strategy was adopted after the league was subjected to harsh rhetoric from President Trump in the wake of player protests. A number of owners admitted they feared further criticism from the President could exacerbate declining television ratings and attendance, attributed in part to what many believe is player disrespect for flag, country and our military. True or not, instead of eliminating player protests the new edict is guaranteed to inflame an issue that had become relatively dormant.
Whether the NFL has the legal right to unilaterally enact the new policy is irrelevant. As a practical matter the league needs to include the players, as the NBA does, to resolve this issue. Instead, it chose to ignore them. Bad move.
We don’t have to wait until the season begins to know this: the NFL’s new anthem policy will do the exact opposite of what it is intended to do.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in and chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached at email@example.com.