- The NFL approved a new policy that requires players to stand during the national anthem.
- Some in the league admitted that the wrath of President Donald Trump was a factor.
- The White House is already taking a victory lap, but there is little reason to think Trump won’t continue his attacks on the league and the players.
- The league also must now deal with other problems created by the new policy, including players and fans who are upset the league caved to the president, a fractured ownership group, and an even uglier scene during national anthems.
NFL owners approved a new policy for its players that would require them to stand during the national anthem but also gives them a choice to remain in the locker room.
Under the new policy, teams would be fined if players don’t show “appropriate respect for the flag and anthem.”
This was a clear victory for President Donald Trump. Just ask him, and Vice President Mike Pence, who tweeted “#Winning” after the NFL announced the policy, a tweet that was quickly shared by the @POTUS account.
Some in the NFL admitted that the wrath of Trump Twitter was a significant factor in the new policy. Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy laughed when asked by Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated if Trump’s reactions influenced the new policy.
“Oh yeah,” Murphy said. “It was more how [Trump] might react, anticipating that. Also, how the fans will react, how the media will react. That’s what we tried to think through.”
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones also said Trump was an influence.
Trump “certainly initiated some of the thinking, and was a part of the entire picture,” Jones told Breer.
But here’s the rub
Trump can claim victory, and yet there is no reason to think he won’t keep using the NFL and its players as a giant talking-point piñata.
During the 2017 season, Trump lambasted the league when a few kneeled, saying owners should fire the “son of a b—-” who did and calling for protesting players to be fired.
If anything, the optics would be worse next season if one team is on the field for the anthem and the other is in the locker room – or if half the players from both sides are on the sidelines and the absence of others is obvious. This would be even worse if some of the players decide to continue kneeling.
If kneeling quietly was considered disrespectful, it is safe to assume that ignoring the anthem altogether is going to be viewed as a far greater insult.
In fact, we have already seen Trump hint at the idea that he won’t let up on the players and the league in his first comments about the new anthem policy, despite saying the NFL owners “did the right thing.”
“I don’t think people should be staying in locker rooms,” Trump told “Fox and Friends” on Thursday. “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. You shouldn’t be playing. You shouldn’t be there. Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.”
Not only did the NFL likely unsuccessfully avoid the wrath of Trump’s Twitter. The NFL now has also added more problems than they had before.
The NFL has angered its most important partners – the players
The NFL has the right to force players to stand – the NBA has been doing it for years without issue. But what is most curious about the move is that by the end of the 2017 season, the number of players kneeling during the anthem had already been reduced to a handful, as the league and players had started working together on how to address the issues behind the protests.
Now the NFL has gone behind the backs of the players and implemented a new rule designed to shame them into standing during the anthem. The league is essentially saying, “If you kneel we are not punishing you. We’re taking money out of somebody else’s pockets. And, oh by the way, you might still get punished by your team anyway.”
Now the NFL has far more fed up players, in large part because it looks like the NFL is caving to Trump by reproaching the players. This includes Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long, who has not kneeled but has supported those who did:
“This is fear of a diminished bottom line,” Long tweeted. “It’s also fear of a president turning his base against a corporation. This is not patriotism. Don’t get it confused. These owners don’t love America more than the players demonstrating and taking real action to improve it. It also lets you, the fan, know where our league stands. I will continue to be committed to affecting change with my platform. I’m someone who’s always looked at the anthem as a declaration of ideals, including the right to peaceful protest. Our league continues to fall short on this issue.”
The NFL couldn’t fine players directly – that would have to be collectively bargained with the NFL Players Association. But nothing is stopping individual teams from punishing players when fined for their actions. This is clearly a concern of the players.
“We were not consulted ahead of this meeting on any potential changes to the anthem policy,” NFLPA spokesperson George Atallah told ESPN. “If there are changes to the policy that put players in a position where they could be disciplined or fined, we are going to do what we always do – fight anything that encroaches on players’ rights to the end.”
The NFLPA also issued a statement threatening to challenge the policy if is it inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement. This is a far cry from the meetings between players and owners in October, when it seemed like the two sides had made some progress in moving forward and beyond the protests during the anthem.
- Buda Mendes/Getty Images
Another problem for the NFL: Cracks in its ranks
Despite announcing the vote as “unanimous” among the owners, there was clearly disagreement.
San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York told reporters that he did not support the policy and abstained from the vote. New York Jets CEO Christopher Johnson said Jets players are free to kneel and vowed his team would not fine players if the team is penalized.
“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules,” Johnson told Bob Glauber of Newsday. “If somebody takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest.”
Johnson had previously called the idea of requiring players to stand “a fantastically bad idea.“
And none of these problems include the possibility of angering a fan base that leans more Democratic and fans who don’t like the idea of caving to Trump even if they may have been mostly apathetic about the protests before.
In other words, the NFL didn’t solve its Trump problem, but instead angered its players, its fans, and are quarreling among themselves.
As Dan Wentzel of Yahoo wrote, “It’s win-win for [Trump] and lose-lose for the NFL.”