NFL: We're cracking down on anthem protests

“It’s unfortunate,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell declared today, “that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. That is not and was never the case.” One could be forgiven for that perception after two seasons of using the national anthem for social-justice protests in taxpayer-subsidized stadiums. Despite Goodell’s defense of players, he announced the rollout of new rules that will force an end to the protests — at least in theory:

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Wednesday that the football league’s players who are on the field will need to stand for the national anthem — capping months of controversy and coming in the wake of a series of player protests.

“The policy adopted today was approved in concert with the NFL’s ongoing commitment to local communities and our country — one that is extraordinary in its scope, resources, and alignment with our players,” Goodell said in a statement. “We are dedicated to continuing our collaboration with players to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society.”

The league published the new rules this afternoon. Teams will not be required to be on the field for the anthem, but all 32 owners agreed that their players and personnel will stand if they come out of the locker room for it:

How effective will this be? Just consider this: the owners agreed to it, but not the players. The NFL Players Association has already pushed back against the rule change, claiming that Goodell and others misled them:

Let’s not forget that Goodell and the league tried mollifying players with a $90 million social-justice activism fund last November, which failed to quell the protests. It’s not as if the players have been entirely locked out of the process, and haven’t benefited from it. However, it seems tough to credit the league with a “solution” to the issue if they hadn’t bothered to get buy-in on the new rules from players first.

Besides, this new rule doesn’t sound much like a solution anyway. It provides an out for players who just don’t want to participate in the national anthem ceremonies, but that’s not been the problem. Players really do want to participate in the ceremony, some more than others in order to make their protests all the more visible. The penalty is even more laughable; the fines will go against the club rather than the players directly. That was clearly an attempt to get around the NFLPA, which might work legally but not for the desired outcome of ending the embarrassment for the league. Players aren’t going to be disincentivized by fines on owners, and might even have more incentive to embarrass them further, especially after this.

There really isn’t a rules-based solution to this issue except to bar the players from the field during the national anthem. It’s curious why the league didn’t do that; perhaps Goodell and the owners want to keep pushing patriotism as a league brand, but the NFLPA’s response will likely backfire in that sense. If the union successfully challenges this rule, perhaps the owners will fall back to that position. Under these rules, though, the players will still protest, and the league will find itself with the same set of headaches as it had before, only with even more demonstrated impotence.

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