So now we know for certain, the NFL really is full of it.
There is no other way to say it: The NFL sold out its players with this new, thoughtless national anthem policy — which it arrogantly believed would not just end the player protests during the national anthem but finally move the league into a delightfully neutral, non-political safe space.
Under the new policy, players can be disciplined by their respective teams for engaging in protests and the league also has the power to fine those teams with protesting players. The NFL’s way of compromising was allowing players the option of staying in the locker room during the anthem — as if the players who elect to do that won’t be criticized and deemed anti-patriotic.
It’s no secret that the league was motivated to come up with this not-so genius strategy because it’s scared of Donald Trump, worried about alienating corporate partners and a subset of its fans.
But if it thought this policy would get the president to stop verbally assaulting the NFL and its players, Trump reminded it before the ink was even dry on the new rule that he will control the narrative on the player protests no matter what it does.
“I don’t think people should be staying in the locker rooms,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday. “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
Trump probably was never going to back off and now that the league has gifted him a political victory, we can all set our watch for the moment when he is before a salivating audience boasting that he got the NFL to kneel.
That, among many things, is what makes the NFL’s decision to enact a national anthem policy so spineless and weak. The league should have left well enough alone, since very few players were protesting by the end of last season and there was no indication that there would be players protesting this season.
Besides, if it wanted to send the message that there were consequences to protesting, that message had already been sent through Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, who both remain unsigned in the wake of being the primary engineers behind the protests.
Rather than let things play out, the NFL created a new controversy, more animosity, and negative headlines just to appease the wrong sensibilities.
Some will argue the NFL was merely being proactive in protecting its product, but all it did was further expose how out of touch it is and prove the merits of Kaepernick’s and Reid’s collusion cases against them.
The NFL is already losing its foothold with millennial viewers, who not surprisingly, aren’t as interested in sitting down and committing three hours to a sport that can’t even define what a catch is.
According to a McKinsey & Company online survey conducted last June, 36 percent of Generation X fans identified as being committing to watching the NFL compared with just 27 percent of millennials. Of all the major sports represented in the poll, the biggest disparity between generations was the NFL’s.
In that same poll, there was no generational disparity among NBA fans and right now the NBA is lapping the NFL in terms of how it values its players’ voices. The NBA actually has a rule that requires players to stand for the national anthem, but that doesn’t feel suppressive because the NBA seems to have genuine respect for the voices in its league.
“I think it’s just typical of the NFL,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters on Thursday. “They’re just playing to their fan base, basically trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people. It’s idiotic. But that’s how the NFL has handled their business. I’m proud to be in a league that understands patriotism in America is about free speech, about peacefully protesting. And I think our leadership in the NBA understands that when the NFL players were kneeling, they were kneeling to protest police brutality, to protest racial inequality. They weren’t disrespecting the flag or the military.”
The NFL not only doesn’t care that its league is starting to have an old-man-yelling-at-clouds kind of feel, but they also don’t seem to care that it is alienating many of its black and brown fans.
According to Yahoo, the NFL used a Washington consulting firm to ask Americans if they should sign Kaepernick and what the firm reportedly discovered was that the majority of African-Americans, Latino and millennial fans did not support disciplining players for not standing during the anthem. White, older fans did.
So if it wasn’t clear before now, the league has shown with this new policy whose opinion and money it truly values.