The NFL has a league meeting this week, kicking off today, where they will discuss a number of items relating to the rules of the league and various business interests. One possible item on the agenda has to do with the National Anthem protests which several players were still engaged in last season. It’s possible that the league may reverse its previous stance of leaving personnel decisions to the individual teams and place a ban on kneeling covering all 32 teams. That would be a total flipflop on the part of Roger Goodell if it happened, but it’s far from a sure thing.
Weighing in on the subject is Jarrett Bell, NFL correspondent for USA Today Sports and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. Bell clearly has some strong feelings on the subject and he implores the league to do precisely nothing. He questions whether or not the league really “gets it” when it comes to the Anthem protests and then goes on to declare that any such ban would be a “hollow” gesture now that the two main antagonists (Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid) are no longer employed.
[A]n anti-kneeling policy would seem rather hollow with Colin Kaepernick and his former San Francisco 49ers teammate, safety Eric Reid, out of work as they pursue collusion cases against the NFL. That Kaepernick, a quarterback in his prime, can’t land a job in a league with a fair share of sorry passers, is about as un-American as it gets. Reid’s only legitimate sniff on the free agent market abruptly ended when he wouldn’t promise Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown that he wouldn’t kneel to further protest police brutality and other social injustices victimizing African-Americans.
The NFL is fashioned as a meritocracy, open for the best players to claim jobs based on competition. Yet in the case of Kaepernick and now Reid, we know better. Whether they can prove collusion or not, this is what being blackballed looks like.
While it may come as a surprise, Bell and I are pretty much on the same page as to what the NFL as a whole should do, though we obviously come at the question from completely opposite perspectives. Bell goes on for an additional dozen paragraphs railing against the unfairness of it all and how players who use the platform of the playing field to espouse their own personal politics shouldn’t be “blacklisted.” He shrugs off the idea that the protests are bad for business without offering any other explanation for football’s tanking ratings over the past two seasons. He further insists that it’s somehow an invasion of a player’s privacy to ask them how they plan to behave (with regards to the Anthem) during hiring interviews. Apparently, the business interests of the franchise are of no consequence in Mr. Bell’s view.
As to what the author would like to see done by Goodell this week (aside from the aforementioned “nothing”), he curiously suggests that Goodell avoid a new position where, “teams can devise their own anthem policies.” That’s an odd reading of the rules from an expert. As we discussed back when Eric Reid was bringing his grievance, NFL rules simply state that the league “takes precedence in the event of ‘conflicting club rules.’” But when there is no rule in place at the league level, the teams are free to run their operations as they see fit. The NFL has no rule about Anthem protests, so the situation Bell seeks to avoid is actually already the status quo.
And that point brings me back to where we started. Though for very different reasons, I too feel that Roger Goodell should “do nothing” about Anthem protests at this point. The time to do so would have been when Kaepernick first started this entire mess. But too much water has gone under the bridge at this point and Goodell lacked the spine to bring the situation under control when it would have counted. Now it would look like cowardice or failure finally drove him to do his job.
Jarrett Bell sings the praises of the NFL for traditionally being a meritocracy, where the best players claim jobs through a process of competition. But there’s more than simple, raw numbers of completed passes, yards gained, tackles or interceptions which go into deciding which player is the best fit for each team. The teams should be left to pick who they want to start and, in the same spirit, be able to make their own rules about player behavior on the field. Then, as in a true meritocracy, the fans will vote with their wallets and television viewing habits as to who got it right.