NFL owners voted this week to implement a new policy that will fine teams when players disrespect the flag.
The decision comes more than a year after 49ers player Colin Kaepernick decided to kneel during the National Anthem as a way to protest police brutality and racial inequality in the justice system.
The NFL watched its ratings and viewership plummet as more and more players joined Kaepernick’s protest. At least one survey found that 50% of fans who watched less football in 2017 did so because of the anthem protests.
The NFL’s solution to the problem, announced on Wednesday, is a policy which allows players to remain in the locker room if they do not want to stand during the National Anthem (this is smart, because it gives them a way to protest off-screen).
Players who come onto the field and fail to stand during the National Anthem will be punished with a fine - but that fine applies to the team, not to the player.
“The efforts by many of our players sparked awareness and action around issues of social justice that must be addressed,” reads a statement from NFL Commissioners Roger Goodell. “It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case…We believe today’s decision will keep our focus on the game and the extraordinary athletes who play it - and our fans who enjoy it.”
The new policy effectively shifts responsibility to the team owners, who will have the ability to punish players in whatever way they deem necessary.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says he hopes the policy will help the NFL move past the issue. “I’m not trying to diminish issues of our rights here, but the No. 1 thing is our fans, and I know our fans want us to zero in on the game, zero in on football,” said Jones. “They want to come to the game and get away from a lot of the other issues that are out here.”
The NFL Players Association, meanwhile, is furious that club CEOs voted on the policy without input from players.
“NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their protest to raise awareness about the issues they care about,” said the NFLPA in a statement.
Commissioner Goodell insists that hundreds of players were asked to share their opinion.
Author’s Note: The National Anthem protests have cost the NFL millions of dollars and I think they are moving in the right direction with this new policy. However, I predict that players will continue to sit during the anthem unless the fines for doing so are incredibly steep.
When this policy fails to work and the NFL is forced to adopt harsher penalties - such as firing players who disrespect the flag - the NFL can rightly argue that it tried to give players an option.
Meanwhile, Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job.