The NFL’s new anthem policy is so wrong for so many reasons.
“All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem,” says the new rule, approved last week by 30 of 32 team owners, with two abstentions. No more kneeling, holding hands, crossing arms, whatever some players, especially Black players, did before games last season to protest racial injustices and police brutality, among other things.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the May 23 release, “We believe today’s decision will keep our focus on the game…and on our fans who enjoy it.” But no other U.S. pro league or the NCAA have placed such a demand on its players.
It is racially motivated, Sports Illustrated’s Charles Pierce said on NPR’s Only a Game. “African American players…are simply expected to shut up and take it,” Shaun King of The Intercept added.
The U.S. president, who has been oft-critical of players kneeling during the national song, once calling them SOBs, expectedly gave the policy a thumbs-up. He told his favorite Fox News folk that if players don’t want to stand for the national anthem, they should leave the country.
“It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic,” Goodell noted. Rather, the new rule should be called SSP as the stand up, shut up and play policy.
It’s “[a] blatant violation of free speech…,” wrote the Philadelphia Tribune’s Michael Coard.
“If their goal was to de-politicize the issue, they [the owners] only made it even more politicized,” Bree Newsome said.
Newsome gained national notoriety in 2015 after she climbed up a South Carolina state house flagpole and took down the Confederate flag in protest. She got arrested for it, but her action nonetheless got posterized worldwide ever since, and eventually led to the flag being permanently removed in that state.
The Charlotte, N.C. native, community organizer and artist, who is also featured this week on the MSR front page, told us by phone that the NFL “basically caved in to President Trump” with its new policy. “Football is such a big part of American culture,” Newsome added, and the Black players’ silent protest ran counter to this culture.
This “You shall stand” rule sounds like plantation massa-speak. “This is another form of humiliation for Black players,” King stressed of the fact that 70 percent of NFL players are Black. “These [pro] leagues were created by White people for the entertainment and wealth of White people. When African Americans tinker with that formula – they are shut down.”
But the owners did include an ‘out’ clause: Players can stay in the locker room or off the field until the anthem has been played. King suggested, and we support, players taking this option.
I’d go a step further – players should leave the field once the pre-game clock hits 0:00. This could be a new way to continue protesting racial profiling and other injustices.
“I don’t know,” Newsome said with some skepticism of such protests, while also emphasizing her support for those who do. “That is part of the dilemma they [the players] find themselves in. A lot of them just want to play football and make a living.”
But the issues that Black people face in this country, Black professional athletes also face. “They are at risk of being profiled [by police],” she said.
The NFL owners’ free speech suppression act was clearly a racial power play. “The White ownership is shutting [the Black players] down” for future protests, Newsome said.