To read it on the NFL’s website, the league made a grand compromise in creating their 2018 national anthem policy? The agreement? Any player who kneels during the anthem will cost their team a fine. Not the player, the team! And what did the players get? Well if they really want to protest, they can just stay off the field while the anthem is being played.
To be sure, this is no compromise. This is the NFL ownership reminder the players that they sign their paychecks. The only person who can really make a difference on this issue now is an owner with integrity enough to pay the fine incurred by a protesting player without punishing said player…
… yeah, you won’t catch me holding my breath waiting for that one!
In sports, there is no greater insult that can hurled than that you’re “hurting the team”. That’s the psychology being used here. A player’s actions will now reflect as a mark on the team instead of being an individual act of free speech. Players who violate the policy will be labeled as “selfish”. It’s the one thing no one wants to be called in the ultimate team sport.
What really pisses me off about this is that Trump will play this as a win. And he’ll be right. His interference was likely the catalyst that got this issue to move. In reality, this should make everyone angry. It should anger those of us who care about free speech, speaking truth to power, and protest, and it should anger those pro-business folks that the highest office in the nation can be used to manipulate a private company’s policy. Sure, that kind of thing is okay in Mother Russia, but… I’ve said too much…
So that’s it, sports fans! The NFL has likely succeeded in silencing their players in this particular way. I doubt we’ll see much kneeling this season and the players who decide to stay off of the field will be ignored.
But players are smarter than they are given credit for. The ones who care about what is happening on our streets and in their communities will continue to set up foundations and non-profits, speak up in interviews, and find other ways to make their presence felt.
And Colin Kaepernick is still out there. This latest move by the NFL functionally ends his career. To many in the NFL, he is a martyr and the symbolism of his martyrdom shouldn’t be overlooked. There will be others who strike out from within the league to speak for justice. There will be others willing to face career suicide because he went before them.
And let’s not forget the fans. The assumption that the NFL was made was that their ratings were down because of players protesting. This ignored the downward trend that ratings had been on several years before Kaepernick became a household name for what he did off the field. I think the league is in for a rude awakening. This move will ostracize far more fans than kneeling players did and they aren’t the type of fans who are likely to come back. They’re the type who are tired of being silenced and seeing others silenced. They’re the type who will find their entertainment elsewhere. They’re the type whose values go beyond paying lip service respect to country and service. The league may soon learn how costly it is to double down on intolerance…
Update: Well, I’ll be damned! The chairman of the New York Jets has come out publicly and said that he will pay his player’s fines if they decide to protest. Christopher Johson had this to say: “If somebody [on the Jets] takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t. There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.”
I am shocked! I’m not pleasantly surprised very often, but this definitely counts. Good for Mr. Johnson. I hope that other team officials will follow suit.