By Ken Reed


Yesterday, the NFL touted their new national anthem policy as a compromise. The only problem with the use of that word is that league commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL owners never spoke to the players about the new anthem policy.

“The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new ‘policy,'” the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) said in a statement.

Sure, the NFL has the legal right to declare a mandate in this area. Fine. But hey NFL owners, don’t try to put a P.R. spin on it by calling it a compromise.

“This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem,” declared King Goodell in a statement regarding the league’s new anthem mandate.

If players choose to kneel or sit during the anthem the league can fine their teams. Players can remain in the locker room during the playing of the anthem and avoid a league fine. However, individual teams have the option of creating their own rules, policies and fines regarding player actions during the anthem.

The NFL has tried to wrap themselves in the flag for a long time. It’s a sad, hypocritical joke.

The reason the NFL takes any patriotic stance at all is for love of money, not love of country.

Exhibit 1: From 2011 to 2014, the Department of Defense paid 14 NFL teams $5.4 million for promotional salutes to military personnel. In effect, it was a paid patriotism deal. An example is the New York Jets’ Hometown Heroes promotion. During timeouts, the Jumbotron camera would zoom in on a U.S. soldier. The soldier stood, smiled and waved to the crowd. Fans stood and cheered, bursting with pride and patriotism, and happy that their favorite football team was honoring true American heroes. In reality, the whole thing was contrived; a revenue-at-all-cost marketing scam; just another income stream for NFL owners, not a feel-good gesture at all. Sad.

Exhibit 2: Regarding the flag and national anthem dispute, the NFL owners’ recent surge in “patriotism” only came about once league TV ratings started to decline. At first, they really had no problem with Colin Kaepernick, or any other NFL player, kneeling during the playing of the anthem.

Here’s the league’s initial statement, in August of 2016, on the issue: “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.”

Then: “encouraged, but not required.” Now: “shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.” Hmm, that’s quite a difference. NFL owners have a little different stance now that their wallets are part of the issue.

As I wrote last week, NFL owners don’t really give a damn about patriotism, or if they do, it’s well below worshiping the God of Greed on their list of values. Money is really all that matters to them. If they feel players kneeling during the anthem is bad public relations, resulting in decreases in stadium attendance and TV ratings, then they are against kneeling. However, on the other hand, if they felt there was huge public sentiment from fans and sponsors in favor of players being allowed to quietly protest during the anthem, they would be totally fine with players kneeling.

From the NFL owners perspective, to kneel or not to kneel is really just about revenue projections. Okay, it’s their business to operate as they like. But spare me the hypocrisy of trying to be this beacon of patriotism.

To clarify where I am at personally on this messy anthem and flag issue: 1) I stand for the national anthem because I believe in our country’s ideals, even when we don’t always live up to them. 2) I also see the anthem as a simple way to show unity for a couple minutes, in a “we’re all in this together” sort of way, working collectively to make the country the best it can be, even when we disagree on some issues and individual methods. 3) I believe in our right — and responsibility — in this country to protest when we don’t live up to our country’s ideals. Free speech and protesting is a big part of our country’s heritage, and the fact we can peacefully protest is a key aspect of what makes us Americans. It differentiates us from most of the other countries on this planet. I take this stance in the spirit of Voltaire, who reportedly said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” To me, nothing can be more American than the sentiment expressed in that quote. 4) I sympathize with players who kneel during the anthem. I think many of their social justice concerns are valid. And, while I don’t agree with their method, I defend it. 5) Regarding the flag, I don’t think it’s simply a military symbol. I believe it represents the many freedoms we’re blessed with in this country, including the Bill of Rights in general, and freedom of speech in particular. 6) Finally, I don’t think you can force patriotic actions. They have to come from the heart. Forcing one’s citizens — or employees — to act patriotic is something a despot would do. It’s simply un-American.

In a recent column about how former San Francisco 49er Eric Reid is getting blackballed from the NFL in a way similar to that of his former teammate Kaepernick, I turned to conservative writer David French of the National Review for help in supporting my beliefs that forcing players to stand during the anthem is misguided. I revisit his — and my — key points here:

French, who also is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, writes:

“Standing for the National Anthem is meaningless if it’s mandated, and such a mandate undermines the essential liberty of free speech. … Private corporations should think twice before using their own economic and cultural power to enforce conformity, even if they are legally empowered to censor their employees. Again, the cure for bad speech is better speech, and free speech cannot flourish in the midst of a culture of censorship.”

French believes forced patriotic acts ultimately don’t have the intended consequences.

“If football players — or any American — stand for the flag and the anthem, I want them to do so because of their love for this nation, its people, and its ideals, not because they fear the consequences of dissent. Seek to impose your will, and more men will kneel (if they’re permitted), and when they rise, it will be with resentment in their hearts.”

Finally, I couldn’t agree more with French when he writes, “[I]f I believe a person is wrong, I seek to persuade them to change course — not mandate that they conform their speech or behavior to my demands.”

Exactly. The American Way is about establishing and protecting a free marketplace of ideas. May the best ideas ultimately prevail.

Mandating players to stand at attention during the playing of the national anthem isn’t patriotic. It’s stupid.

And it undermines the spirit of freedom that is the very foundation of the United States of America — a spirit which is represented by our flag and anthem.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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