It appears to be 2017 again.
“Mostly peaceful” protests are turning out to be dangerous and violent, the president is taking a Trump-branded hatchet to globalism and national anthem protests have once again become the topic du jour of the National Football League.
But if there’s one key factor that’s reminding the world that it’s actually 2020, it’s the markedly different stance the NFL appears to be taking on national anthem protests this time around.
In 2017, the NFL dealt with a cadre of players kneeling, sitting or raising a fist during pre-game playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” with a mixture of apathy and tacit disapproval, almost like a parent waiting for their child to grow out of a phase.
The protests were still enough to draw the ire of President Donald Trump on numerous occasions, most infamously when he said during a 2017 rally in Alabama: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag to say, ‘get that son of a b—- off the field right now. Out. He’s fired.”
To be fair, the context of the situation around the NFL is also markedly different this time around. While an undercurrent of racial tension has been prevalent throughout basically all of history, it seems to have gotten visibly worse in the three years since 2017.
This latest ordeal was sparked when New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees said he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.” Brees was hit with a wave of criticism for those remarks and has since apologized.
Regardless, it’s still jarring to see NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who had previously tried to halt anthem protests with a rule change, admit the league was “wrong” in how it dealt with the issue.
We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter. #InspireChange pic.twitter.com/ENWQP8A0sv
— NFL (@NFL) June 5, 2020
“It has been a difficult time for our country,” Goodell said in a video posted to the NFL’s Twitter account Friday, “in particular, black people in our country.”
While generic platitudes like that are not uncommon during the ongoing riots, it was another statement that Goodell made which most hearkened back to the 2017 national anthem protests.
“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” Goodell said.
“We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter,” he added. “I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country.”
Goodell saying that the league wants to “encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest” seems to swing the door wide open for national anthem protests to once again take center stage before NFL games.
If Goodell’s remarks do, in fact, spark a new wave of anthem protests, his statement will turn out to have been a very curious decision.
During the peak of anthem protests during the 2017-2018 season, the NFL suffered a myriad of problems stemming from how polarizing and divisive those protests were.
For instance, the league had to refund advertisers because of depressed ratings.
It’s also worth noting that “bad” NFL ratings still blow anything else on television out of the water.
“Bad” ratings or not, if the NFL does allow national anthem protests to hijack a highly anticipated 2020-2021 season, it could be a long year for fans.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.