The issue of national anthem protests has easily been one of the most contentious flash points in NFL history.
If the NFL monolith ever crumbles one day, many will point to Colin Kaepernick sparking a wave of players kneeling in protest during the national anthem as ground zero.
In fairness, many of the league’s current problems seemed to have coincided with Kaepernick’s protests. The declining ratings, the poor public perception and the ire of President Donald Trump all appear to stem directly from the inaugural anthem protester. Even Kaepernick supporters have turned on the NFL, claiming that the league has “blackballed” him and owners are colluding to keep him unemployed.
That being said, there was an opportunity for the NFL to at least partly redeem itself throughout the ordeal.
The league could have come down hard with some rule changes prohibiting players from protesting during the national anthem. It could have taken a firm stance against the divisive demonstrations, fostering some good will with the fans it has lost during a time in which it desperately needs all the good will it can engender.
Naturally, considering the buffoonery that has characterized Roger Goodell’s tenure as commissioner, the NFL seems like it’s on the verge of squandering that opportunity.
Instead of taking any sort of concrete stance on the issue one way or another, the NFL is likely to punt on the matter and pass the ultimate decision on anthem protests to individual teams, per The Washington Post.
“While some owners would like to require all players to stand for the anthem, others remain opposed to such a mandate and there appears to be insufficient support to make that a leaguewide policy, according to those with knowledge of the owners’ thinking,” The Post’s Mark Maske reported. “Making it a team-by-team decision would allow some owners to impose a requirement that players stand for the anthem while most others would be likely to continue to allow players to make their own choices, those people said.”
At best, this could be viewed as a mea culpa from the owners to Goodell for his being the public punching bag through all of the NFL’s recent woes.
At worst, it could be viewed as a condemnation of the aimless ramblings of an overmatched league front office.
According to The Post, the NFL’s final decision on anthem protests will be made when the league owners convene in Atlanta for their spring meeting later this month.
“My guess is they will leave it up to the teams,” an anonymous NFL official told The Post.
There are reportedly other “solutions” being considered.
One solution, not likely to be looked at fondly by many fans, is to keep the rules as is and continue to let the players decide about protesting.
Another solution, swinging to the other end of the spectrum, would be a blanket mandate to force all players to stand for the anthem if they’re on the sideline. Variations of that include allowing players to stay in the locker room for the anthem.
The possibility of returning to the pre-2009 NFL rules of having all players in the locker room during the national anthem has also been discussed.
Interestingly, the owners are seemingly split on how to proceed. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Texans owner Bob McNair are two powerful voices who have previously clamored for all anthem protests to be illegal. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has fallen on the other side of the issue, having previously taken issue with the idea that all NFL owners support Trump and his policies.
One way or another, the issue of national anthem protests is coming to a head for the NFL. But if they squander this one golden opportunity, it could portend an ugly 2018-2019 season.
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