Last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell enacted a policy to combat the seemingly endless debate regarding players protesting. The policy states that “all league and team personnel” who are on the field during the national anthem must stand. This ruling permits those that choose not to stand for the anthem to remain in the locker room. If a player or member of the organization violates this policy, they will be subject to “disciplinary actions” unilaterally by the commissioner.
Regardless of your stance on players using their platform to spread their message or how much you hate or love Roger Goodell, most people can agree that the new rule is a cop out. It was Goodell’s way of trying to please both sides; however, this policy has pleased neither. Those that support the protests are angry that players can’t demonstrate in the public eye, while those who do not support the protests are upset because the absence of players who choose to stay in the locker room will be noted.
The NFL is a private business and should be run as one. It is permitted to limit the freedom of expression while players are at work. The ethical concern is a whole different debate, but for the sake of the point I am trying to make, there is nothing that limits Goodell from forcing players to stand for the anthem. Whatever and however they choose to protest in their free time is fair game, but when it comes to work, they must abide by the rules set forth by the NFL. It is similar to the dress code of a business. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to work there. It is getting old seeing the NFL try to implement new rules that attempt to please everyone and inevitably fail. Goodell needs to take a stance because this out of sight, out of mind approach will not cut it.
Let’s say that Goodell doesn’t want to be portrayed as the “bad guy.” He could have enforced a policy that left the owners of each franchise to discipline their players accordingly. This would have placed the heat from pro-protest fans and players on individual teams. Admittedly, it’s a weaselly solution, but I have a feeling that owners like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys would implement stricter, more absolute and ultimately better rules to govern their players. For example, last season Jones stated that his players will stand for the anthem; however, prior to the anthem in a game against the Arizona Cardinals last season, he knelt with his players. This is a happy medium that allows players to still protest in the public-eye while still respecting the flag and anthem.
Perhaps the most obvious issue with this new rule is that it is not absolute. Front office members like Christopher Johnson, the CEO of the New York Jets, have already publicly stated that the organization will pay the fines that players incur due to the rule violation. This is just ridiculous. The fact that the entire policy can be bypassed by paying fines (and it’s not like the teams are tight on cash) is utter stupidity. If Goodell were looking for a real solution to this problem, he would have implemented a clause preventing athletes in violation of the policy from participating in that day’s matchup. This would force players, owners, managers and coaches to consider the potential loss of talent because of the violation. This would ultimately accomplish Goodell’s out of sight, out of mind policy to encourage players to protest via staying in the locker room rather than doing so on the field.
The lack of absolute rules in the NFL has led to so many problems. Who even knows what constitutes as a catch anymore? This issue is no different. What is so hard about enacting a rule that states something along the lines of: “Players of the NFL shall not protest while on-field” or “Players of the NFL are permitted to protest while they are on the field”? This new policy will probably make the “kneeling debate” even worse in the 2018 season then it was last year. Instead of a simple, absolute ruling, we are left with a spineless rule that fails to accomplish its one goal.
Sam Arslanian is a sophomore majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Extra Innings,” runs every other week.