The NFL’s spring owners meeting wrapped up in Atlanta Wednesday. It is the last time the 32 teams’ leaders will gather in one place until the preseason this summer.
At the meeting, the owners addressed an issue that had overshadowed the league for much of the past season: national anthem protests.
The issue was the elephant in the room for an entire year. President Donald Trump did his best to viciously attack the protesters on Twitter. For his part, Vice President Mike Pence used taxpayer dollars to fund a cowardly, passive-aggressive counter-protest when he walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game last fall.
Caving in to the pressure, owners voted to restrict future protests. As ESPN reports:
NFL owners have unanimously approved a new national anthem policy that requires players to stand if they are on the field during the performance but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if they prefer, it was announced Wednesday.
The policy subjects teams to a fine if a player or any other team personnel do not show respect for the anthem. That includes any attempt to sit or kneel, as dozens of players have done during the past two seasons to protest racial inequality and police brutality. Those teams also will have the option to fine any team personnel, including players, for the infraction.
“We want people to be respectful of the national anthem,” commissioner Roger Goodell said. “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.”
The owners have to know they’re in the wrong, adding fuel to an already large fire. An official roll-call vote, which would have put individual owners on the record, was never taken — a sign of moral cowardice. Why hide your vote if you know you’re in the right? Why worry about alienating fans with views that are at best misguided, at worst overtly racist?
This decision, as well as most criticism over the protests, isn’t about respecting the flag, military or country. It’s about white people demanding black people know “their place,” i.e., below the socioeconomic level of whites. It is flat out racist. It’s insensitive and disrespectful to players, who don’t actually get a choice in the matter. Waiting in the locker room does not have the same effect as kneeling. Though the new policy change, which restricts the First Amendment rights of players, is certainly legal, it is deeply immoral.
Patriotism isn’t patriotic when forced. That is authoritarianism. A large part of Americans’ pride in their county is in knowing they have the freedom to choose not to speak in its defense, should they desire. Nationalism is perfectly acceptable when one loves their country out of a respect for its morally upstanding values; patriotism is unacceptable when it is compelled upon threat of punishment.
In this instance, race is the issue. When white players have protested in a similar manner, they have received far less criticism than some of their black counterparts. Cleveland Browns tight end Seth DeValve and Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long, an alumnus of the University of Virginia, located in Charlottesville, are not in any place to lose their jobs.
Part of the invalidation of the protests may be due to the fact some white protesters are not as high-profile as players like Colin Kaepernick and Marshawn Lynch. Kaepernick, who most recently played for the San Francisco 49ers but is currently unemployed, has been blackballed by the NFL for his prominent role in launching the protests. Lynch, a member of the Oakland Raiders, sat for the anthem long before the protests started a conversation.
Long weighed in on the decision:
Long also expressed disdain with Vice President Mike Pence, who tweeted a screenshot of a CNN (hmmm…) article:
Colin Kaepernick’s lawyer fired back, claiming what the Trump administration did was illegal:
The NFL Players Association claims it was shut out of the process:
I find it unlikely the players association would make such strong claims if they weren’t true. The group wants to do what’s best for all professional football players, and lying would not help them.
The majority of owners are essentially bowing to adult children, such as President Trump and his administration, because they don’t want to get their feelings hurt.
But if they truly disagree, why didn’t they take a stronger stand? Not doing so just adds to the perception owners only care about championships and the bottom line. (It’s worth mentioning the Jets’ acting owner is the brother of the actual owner, who currently serves as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom in the Trump administration. Could that have influenced his thinking?)
In supporting these players’ right to protest, we have to keep in mind the paradox of tolerance: in order to maintain a tolerant society, we must be intolerant to intolerance. This is just one of several instances of cultural intolerance under the presidency of Donald J. Trump, who repeatedly demeans immigrants, minorities, journalists and more. It has to stop.
Because the United States is tolerating intolerance, we are slowly becoming less tolerant, overall. ■