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  • NFL players kneeling during the national anthem was never about the flag. So why does the new policy place so much focus on it?
By Jonathan Jones
May 23, 2018

ATLANTA — The NFL’s new policy regarding player protests during the national anthem is not a compromise whatsoever. It is a series of half measures dedicated to the attempt of satisfying all frustrated parties while completely ignoring the initial point of the peaceful protests. It is intended to hide its mostly black players who wish to speak up, through their actions, about inequality in criminal justice and police brutality against people of color. The policy treats those players as nuisances and attempts to hide them away in the locker room. It is meant to chill the speech of the players whose voices have grown louder than the players—and owners—imagined they could go.

The NFL was at a crossroads with President Donald Trump breathing down the owners’ necks, the precious white male fan threatening to abandon the sport forever, a mutiny from two-thirds of its players and the disdain from tomorrow’s fans who could eventually jump ship to another sport. As a result, the league’s owners came up with a five-point plan that they believed could satisfy all parties at least a little.

What the NFL certainly could not do is reverse course to pre-2009 and have players stay in the locker room during the playing of the anthem. That would be viewed as the North American sports behemoth capitulating to the liberals and furthering the PC culture damaging this great nation.

Telling teams they can make their own policies seems so apropos today as we enjoy heated debates about states’ rights in our national discourse. A policy for San Francisco or Seattle would not suit the fans in Kansas City or Buffalo.

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The policy states that the league will fine teams—not individual players—if players do not “show respect for the flag and the anthem.” When asked to define what respect for the flag and anthem is, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, “The general public has a very strong feeling for what respect for the flag is in that moment,” adding that clubs and the league will be the arbiters of what disrespect for the flag and anthem is. Team owners can then eat the fines themselves or exact fine money from players for the violation of team rules—and in that instance, the player fined wouldn’t be public knowledge.

All of this is rooted in the idea promulgated Tuesday by Jerry Jones that “our fans want us to zero-in on football, and don’t want to think about—or think we’re thinking about—anything other than football.” It’s a laughable comment since every NFL game forces us to think about the military and war, among many other reasonable, charitable and valiant causes. Perhaps the league has hard data on the demographics of their fans, but I also enjoy the idea of a clipboard-holding Jones polling the average person as he or she exits the Wal Mart beside AT&T Stadium.

There is a fantastic amount of evidence—both tangible and anecdotal—that shows players protesting during the anthem didn’t tank the ratings. Some of the league’s top stars were injured and some of the most well-followed franchises failed to make the playoffs. Sports Business Daily’s Austin Karp told SI.com in February “it is perhaps worth noting that the league’s 9% decline in its overall delivers matches the 9% season-to-date drop in broadcast prime” television. The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson combined the two, noting that “quite simply, televised football has a television problem and a football problem.” And then there’s the fact that, despite all the myriad issues, six of the seven most-viewed broadcasts so far this year were NFL games, and Sunday Night Football ranked as the highest-rated show on TV.

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Furthermore, discussions about people tuning football out for protest-related reasons usually conspicuously exclude those in support of player protests who boycotted the NFL because of what should clearly and efficiently be stated as the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick.

The obvious policy is that there should be no policy. There’s a significant arrogance to the idea that these men, who by definition of their positions are out-of-touch with the majority of society, can predict the future as it relates to police brutalizing black and brown bodies. With this policy, there’s a clear belief that the political landscape will maintain status quo when we should all know the ground beneath us is constantly shifting.

At a time when blackness is being celebrated and continuing to be persecuted—and when blackness is persecuted while celebrating—any attempt to muzzle such celebration will be met with resistance. Now the players have mostly worked out the kinks in the Players Coalition, they’ve been emboldened by comments past and future from the certain owners in these private meetings, and they’ve clearly grown a healthy contempt—like so much of this country—for the president. These players are motivated and organized, and, most of all, they now know their collective power.

This remarkable arrogance from these owners that they can hold their black players in check is matched only by the incredible ignorance from the same owners that these young, rich (mostly) black men will acquiesce to what was decided in Atlanta.

Every so often a commercial is aired, an identifier is published, a promposal goes wrong, a company’s insensitive tagline is stamped with approval where I remark to myself “if only they had consulted one black person.” I’m not convinced that one single black man or woman could have saved the 32 owners from this miserable policy. These men and women were determined to come up with a bad idea by hell or high water.

But this policy clearly shows that, once again in America, there wasn’t a black person in the room.

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