Today the NFL instituted a policy today requiring that its players either stand for the national anthem or remain in the locker room to show the flag its “proper respect.” Those who violate the policy will garner their teams a 15-yard penalty. Never mind that this will be the easiest rule to circumvent. Players from opposing teams can just plan with each other that they’ll kneel to get offsetting penalties. What the NFL demonstrated today is that it is tone deaf to the problems that ail it.
In making the announcement, the NFL had the gall to put the following in its press release: “We are dedicated to continuing our collaboration with players to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society.” And here’s how the NFL Players Association responded:
So much for collaboration with players.
You know how we feel about the players’ movement started by Colin Kaepernick. We’ve written about Athletes Responding to Trump, another about Kaepernick’s initial protest, why Kaepernick can’t get a job, the hypocrisy of the right-wing when it comes to protests, and on and on. Long story short, the NFL ownership is comprised of white conservative men and they behave as such. They give platitudes when it comes to the real work done by guys like Doug Baldwin only to thrust the anthem debate front and center. And let’s not forget that the NFL long stayed silent on the fact that it was taking money from the military for the flag ceremonies. Nothing beats paid patriotism. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
The NFL’s announcement comes at an interesting time. The announcement came a day after we learned that the Milwaukee Bucks’ Sterling Brown was apparently on the wrong end of a stun gun employed by the Milwaukee police for no reason. The video of the Sterling Brown incident is going to be quite awful. It prompted Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to say: “I’m going to let the release of that speak for itself, but yes, I definitely have concerns after watching that video.” The Assistant Police Chief Michael Brunson Sr. told a church congregation: “I’m going to be honest with you, we’re going to need your support during the challenges.” So, rather than acknowledge that there is a justification for the players’ protest, is the NFL really deciding to go with the “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” strategy by enacting this inane rule?
The NFL is probably not dumb enough to think that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Rather it seems likely is that the NFL has decided to commit itself to keeping its white conservative viewers happy. They figure that turning off liberals and people of color is a good business decision when compared with alienating the Donald Trump wing of the U.S. But is it a good business decision?
As a comparison, the NBA has an anthem rule too, but it is in concert with the NBA’s going out of its way to allow its players and coaches to speak their minds. Nary a week has gone by without LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich, or countless others talking about issues of the day in a decidedly progressive tone. Has the NBA suffered? No. Quite the opposite.
The NFL on the other hand is losing fans. Even conservative outlets have noted that the NBA is surging in ratings while the NFL if floundering. So in this environment, when the data tells the NFL to get with the times, it doubled down today on a right-wing fringe issue. As they say, you make your bed, you sleep in it. Talk to you in a couple of decades when the NBA’s viewership dwarfs that of the NFL.