NFL on new anthem-protest rule: Never mind!

At each stage, we ask ourselves: could the NFL could handle the controversy over national-anthem protests any worse? Never underestimate the power of combining enthusiasm with incompetence. Two months after passing a new rule without consulting the players union, the league threw in the towel — but only after one team attempted to put it into effect:

The NFL and National Football League Players Association have agreed to halt enforcement of rules regarding the new national anthem policy while the two sides work on a resolution.

The league and its players union issued a joint statement late Thursday, hours after The Associated Press reported that Miami Dolphins players who protest on the field during the anthem could be suspended for up to four games under a team policy issued this week.

“The NFL and NFLPA, through recent discussions, have been working on a resolution to the anthem issue. In order to allow this constructive dialogue to continue, we have come to a standstill agreement on the NFLPA’s grievance and on the NFL’s anthem policy. No new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks while these confidential discussions are ongoing,” the statement read.

The news came a little late for the Dolphins. Yesterday, the team imposed its own rules for anthem protests that could have resulted in four-game suspensions, attempting to put into place what the owners as a group decided in May:

Miami Dolphins players who protest on the field during the national anthem reportedly could be suspended for up to four games under a team policy issued this week.

The “Proper Anthem Conduct” section is just one sentence in a nine-page discipline document provided to The Associated Press by a person familiar with the policy who insisted on anonymity because the document is not public. It classifies anthem protests under a long list of “conduct detrimental to the club,” all of which could lead to a paid or unpaid suspension, a fine, or both.

In a statement, the Dolphins confirmed they sent the NFL the document, without offering specifics on what plans it laid out.

“The NFL required each team to submit their rules regarding the anthem before their players reported to training camp,” the team said. “We will address this issue once the season starts. All options are still open.”

Not any more, they’re not. Never mind!

The league’s new new policy, as opposed to the old new policy, means that the Dolphins never had to make that rule change at all. That might have been handy to know earlier, before the Dolphins front office set fire to their relationship to their players. The league basically left them twisting in the wind, which will undoubtedly make the Dolphins’ ownership really excited about implementing whatever Roger Goodell has in mind next.

As are we all, of course. What new and imaginative way will the league set fire to itself next? How long before the owners realize they have only two realistic options? They can either make a rule to keep teams off the field during the national anthem altogether, or they can suck it up and take the damage that the players are inflicting on the league in the name of free speech. If the NFLPA insists on the latter, then the reduction in revenue that results will eventually come out of the players’ salaries anyway. If so, perhaps the league can stop spending its money on the $90 million social-justice fund that Goodell gave away in March without any guarantees from the players. They’re going to need the cash eventually, at the rate they’re going.

How’s that contract extension for Goodell working out, anyway?