The National Football League has decided that it will fine players who protest police violence during pre-game playing of the National Anthem. The just-announced policy will see teams fined if players do not stand for the entirety of the National Anthem. The policy allows players to remain in the locker room, rather than being on the field, as had been previously required.
Roger Goodell, the league’s Commissioner, said the following:
“This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem…Personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room until after the anthem has been performed.”
There is absolutely no confusing what “shall stand and show respect” is intended to mean. Protest critics – including Donald Trump – repeatedly alleged that players protesting police violence were disrespecting the National Anthem itself by taking a knee during it. (Many of those same critics did not object to displays like these; some protests are more equal than others, apparently.) This was always hogwash designed specifically to take attention away from the claims being made by the players: that some Americans are policed very differently than other Americans.
The protests themselves were begun (within football at least) by Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. Kaepernick, who had previously lead his team to an unexpected Super Bowl appearance in 2013, and who remained one of the league’s better quarterbacks, began taking a knee to protest racism and police brutality during the 2016 season. Conservative white commentators, including Trump, raged at the quarterback, but the protests themselves eventually spread, with other players throughout the league similarly protesting what they saw as policing’s unjust treatment of minority populations. But despite being right on the issue – the numbers clearly, and repeatedly, show that minority populations are treated very differently than white populations – Kaepernick was eventually let go by the team and has since been blackballed by the league, with various teams voluntarily signing objectively worse quarterbacks than risking any backlash from bringing Kaepernick onto the team. Kaepernick has sued and depositions are underway. Other players who have also protested have been similarly blackballed. Most notable among them is Eric Reid.
Kaepernick’s protests, and the NFL’s response, is part of America’s ongoing and neverending culture war, one which sees older generations demanding to have the world as they want it, everybody else be damned. That the NFL would go along for this ride speaks volumes about where it sees its own loyalties, as it apparently believes that placating angry, older, conservative, white consumers is of higher importance than anything else, including its players. That attitude isn’t entirely unheard of, given that the NFL’s regard for its players is laughably, and consistently, evil. But that is football: a game of predominantly black athletes coached by predominantly white coaches owned by primarily white ownership, catering to a generally white fanbase. That white fanbase is the issue, as many white fans appeared to walk away from the game in the cultural tumult of the last year. The NFL is betting that these older white fans will return, and stick around, just as soon as they are not asked to briefly come to grips with the fact that policing is very different for the players on the field than it is for the coaches on the sidelines, the owners in the boxes, or even, god forbid, the out-of-shape 60-year olds watching from their recliners.
The NFL’s new rules go into effect this coming season.