Many see new rule as caving in to Trump
The National Football League is now the first U.S. major professional league with a national anthem policy. Last week, 30 of the league’s 32 team owners approved a new rule mandating that all team personnel – especially players – must stand while the national anthem is played before games.
Major League Baseball, the NHL, NBA, WNBA, Major League Soccer and the NCAA have no such rules. Only the U.S. Soccer Federation requires its players to stand if they are “representing a Federation national team.”
Since 2016, many pro players have used the pre-game ritual to protest against social issues, including racial injustice and police brutality. In July 2016, the Minnesota Lynx wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts during the national anthem before a game, and other WNBA teams have locked arms before regular-season and playoff games as well.
“I don’t think there is ever an inappropriate place for players to effectively voice their opinions, especially on social and political issues,” Women’s National Basketball Players Association President Nneka Ogwumike told the New Haven Register.
Since last week’s announcement, some saw the new NFL policy as a direct result of Black players kneeling when they protested racial injustices, first sparked when former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the anthem at a 2016 preseason game and, later, took a knee. Other players did likewise during that season as well as this past season.
Seventy percent of the NFL players are Black. There are only two people of color (one Asian American, the other Pakistani American) among the principal owners of the NFL’s 32 teams. The rest are White.
“The NFL, like America in so many ways, has shown that it is more interested in silencing the speech of Black players…and rather wanting to make White America comfortable,” said Washington Post Global Opinions Editor Karen Attiah in a published article last week.
“Trump rallied against NFL players… [He] insults and degrades professional athletes, then virtually dictates the new policies,” King stated. “Whiteness is at the root here.”
Jemele Hill, senior correspondent for ESPN and The Undefeated, said, “It’s no secret that the league…[is] scared of President Donald Trump,” and added that the NFL “doesn’t seem to care that it is alienating many of its Black and brown fans.”
NFL players do have the option to stay in the locker room during the national anthem and not be penalized. The league nonetheless “basically caved in to President Trump,” said activist Bree Newsome in a recent MSR phone interview.
The Charlotte, N.C. native became famous for her 2015 civil disobedience when she was arrested after climbing the flagpole and taking down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina State House. But she was an activist before that event – Newsome was arrested in 2013 during a sit-in at the North Carolina house speaker’s office while protesting the state’s voter ID law. She also co-founded The Tribe, a grassroots organizing collective in Charlotte.
“I ended up taking a stand because I witnessed the injustice in light of the Trayvon Martin case and the attack on voting rights,” said Newsome, who is also an artist, filmmaker and grassroots organizer. “I recognized that what rights I did have were the product of people who were taking a stand in past generations. I was at risk of losing rights for myself and for my children and future generations.”
Newsome is against the new anthem policy and supports the players, urging them not to stop protesting. “I think it raises more questions about not just the rights of athletes to protest, but in the way the NFL is structured. It’s a majority White-owned league [and] the players are predominately Black,” she points out, adding that the NFL owners’ latest action shows “the imbalance of power” that is in place. “The White ownership is shutting [the Black players] down” in future protests, she stressed.
“The owners can try to prevent kneeling, but they open another can of worms,” University of Kansas African and African-American Studies and History Professor Randal Maurice Jelks said in an Associated Press article. “Imagine if players decide as a team to not come out for the national anthem. Or if one-third of the team decides not to come out.”
Activist DeRay McKesson, in the same article, said he hopes NFL players will fight the new policy.
“If we narrow the conversation to simply being about sit, stand, squat, salute during the anthem, then I think we are really missing the forest for the trees,” Newsome said.
Read more of Bree Newsome’s comments about the NFL anthem policy in the MSR sports section.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.