The NFL on Wednesday unveiled a new policy that requires all players and team personnel on the field to stand during the national anthem unless. They are provided the option of staying in the locker room if they choose, but any player or staff member who does not stand if on the field for the anthem is subject to penalty.
The NFL Players Association quickly denounced the policy, noting that there was no consultation with the union before the owners voted on the new policy. Shortly after that, 49ers owner Jed York contradicted commissioner Roger Goodell's assertion that the motion passed unanimously by announcing that he abstained from voting because he wanted to hear more from the players. (York also noted that the 49ers may halt concession sales during the anthem.) Jets chairman Christopher Johnson then volunteered that he will pay the fines of any Jets players punished under the policy.
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, one of the leaders of the Players Coalition that has negotiated with the league on its support of social justice issues, came out and stated that "everyone loses" with the new policy as it stifles people's voices. His teammate, Chris Long, was much more direct in his statement.
"This is fear of a diminished bottom line," Long wrote on Twitter. "It's also fear of a president turning his base against a corporation. This is not patriotism. Don't get it confused. These owners don't love America more than the players demonstrating and taking real action to improve it. It also lets you, the fan, know where our league stands."
May 23, 2018
"I will continue to be committed to affecting change with my platform," he continued. "I'm someone who's always looked at the anthem as a declaration of ideals, including the right to peaceful protest. Our league continues to fall short on this issue."
Long is not wrong that the league is concerned about both the bottom line and the president. A New York Times report from late April detailed the following scene from the owners' meeting with a group of players to discuss the anthem, protests of policy brutality and systemic racism that were taking place during the anthem, and the firestorm set off by the president when he stated at a rally that any "son of a bitch" who sits or kneels during the anthem should be fired.
"The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don't feel is in the best interests of America," said Kraft, who is a longtime supporter of Mr. Trump's. "It's divisive and it's horrible."
The owners were intent on finding a way to avoid Trump's continued criticism. The president's persistent jabs on Twitter had turned many fans against the league. Lurie, who called Trump's presidency "disastrous," cautioned against players getting drawn into the president's tactics.
"We've got to be careful not to be baited by Trump or whomever else," Lurie said. "We have to find a way to not be divided and not get baited."
The Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula sounded anguished over the uncertainty of when Trump would take another shot at the league. "All Donald needs to do is to start to do this again," Pegula said. "We need some kind of immediate plan because of what's going on in society. All of us now, we need to put a Band-Aid on what's going on in the country."
The Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan countered that the worst was behind them. "All the damage Trump's going to do is done," he said.
The owners kept returning to one bottom-line issue: Large numbers of fans and sponsors had become angry about the protests. Boycotts had been threatened and jerseys burned and -- most worrisome -- TV ratings were declining.
The owners on Wednesday decided that their beliefs about what constitutes respect for the flag and the anthem, as well as their concern for their bottom line, are what should determine the NFL's policy as it pertains to the national anthem and players' ability to protest causes of their choice during the anthem. Because they apparently took unilateral action on this front, it should not be surprising that Long is far from the only player upset by this action.
What I'm hearing from players: Those who weren't planning demonstrations for next season are now back in the conversation, discussing ways to skirt to new rules "just to spite the NFL."— Robert Klemko (@RobertKlemko) May 23, 2018
If the owners thought they were going to get this issue to go away by instituting the policy they voted on this week, it looks like they were wrong.