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The NFL’s Anthem Policy: Impact on Players and Locker Rooms as League Ignores NFLPA Again

The owners once again cut the NFLPA out of the discussions on a major policy, seeding more distrust with the union, leaving Goodell to take the heat (again), and proving that Colin Kaepernick is still the most discussed player across front offices. Plus, five memories of Peter King in the boss’s final week at The MMQB

In the spirit of Peter King’s last week at The MMQB, here are 10 things I think: five things about the NFL’s new (and unimproved) anthem policy, and five things I think about Peter.

First, on the NFL owners’ clumsy resolution on the issue of player protest.

1. I think that although he hasn’t played in the NFL in 20 months, I am more convinced than ever that Colin Kaepernick has become the most talked about player in the league at the C-suite level. Owners have spent much time and attention trying to counteract what Kaepernick started, as they see it as detrimental to their business. The new policy is designed to force players to “stick to sports,” no matter what other rhetoric is used to describe it. And, of course, it is not only the owners pressing for this resolution. The NFL has heard from key stakeholders—sponsors, networks, fans, and of course, the Tweeter in Chief—that they do not want politics to clutter up their football. That feedback, combined with many owners’ own political leanings, pushed this resolution. As I always say, The business of football always wins.

• IT’S CLEAR THAT KAEPERNICK WON’T BE SIGNED: Why the Seahawks decision to cancel a workout was the definitive sign that Kaepernick’s NFL career is over.

2. I think the NFL, in listening to these other partners, has once again purposefully ignored its most important partner: its product, the players. Similar to when the league forged a new Personal Conduct Policy in 2014, they were not to be bothered with involving the NFLPA in crafting policy. And when an NFLPA grievance challenging that Personal Conduct Policy failed, it further emboldened owners to pay only lip service to the union, if not ignore them altogether. Despite contract extensions for the leaders of both entities—Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith—the NFL-NFLPA relationship continues to be characterized by a mutual lack of respect and trust. We have a labor agreement, but we have never had labor peace.

• HOW OWNERS SETTLED ON THE NEW ANTHEM POLICY: Behind-the-scenes of the meeting in which the controversial policy was created.

3. I think that this issue again illustrates one of the key roles for Goodell in serving his owner constituency. Virtually all criticism of the new policy, much of it deserved, has been directed squarely at Goodell rather than those who pushed it through: ownership. While it is certainly no small feat to herd 32 ownership views to consensus, it is not the same as authoring this measure. Yet the universal response of critics of the policy has been their default setting: “Blame Goodell.” Each owner willingly pays Goodell $1 million or so annually because the commissioner will, among other duties, take the heat so they don’t have to.

4. I think that, as a lawyer, policy and precedent put the NFL on the defensive here. Upon Kaepernick’s initial protest almost two years ago, the league tweeted: “We encourage, but do not require, players to stand for the anthem.” The policy, different from the NBA’s requirement to stand, forced the NFL to improvise. They have now transferred discipline to the teams, rather than the players. And although that sounds protective for the players, the net effect may be much more sinister. Consider: with so many players for so few jobs, any hint of activism for a player may be de facto “conduct detrimental” to his career longevity. Players who protest might be safe short-term, but there can certainly be long-term consequences and punishment. Just ask Kaepernick and Eric Reid.

• THE NFL IGNORES ORIGNIAL REASON FOR PROTESTS: SOCIAL JUSTICE: Players demonstrating during the anthem was never about the flag; why has the league put so much focus on it?

5. I think I worry about internal dissension among NFL locker rooms, which are melting pots of different backgrounds, races and, yes, political views. There will be players wanting no part of sharing space with teammates wanting to protest. Last season, that expression happened simultaneously on NFL sidelines. Now, protesters are banished to the locker room while non-protesters are not. We saw a snippet of this potential for disruption with the Steelers and Alejandro Villanueva last season. This policy would seem to trigger more. The policy presents a friction point that coaches, management and player leadership will have to address.

And five memories/thoughts about Peter…

1. Everyman
I used to read Peter’s Monday morning column long before I was in media, and will continue do so as long as he serves us all in writing it. Peter taught me the importance of connecting with readers by making the reader feel I am not writing at them, but conversing with them.

Peter’s columns flow so easily because of his easy, egoless and everyman style. And, of course, Peter taught me that it is ok, even advisable, to let some personality show, even in writing about the boring business of football ☺. I was very conscious of doing so when I had the awe-inspiring responsibility of guest-writing the Monday Morning Quarterback column a few years back.

2. Selfless
What people might not know about Peter is the amount of people that ask him for help, whether small or large. Due to his expansive following, people are always asking for a mention, a retweet, a note, a call, whatever. And although he cannot possibly accept everything, he is ready and willing to help more than we know.

When I started a website with some other founders after leaving the Packers nine years ago——many media members were reluctant to promote or support a potential competitive outlet. Not Peter. He thought we did good work and regularly noted it and tweeted about it. I will never forget that.

Similarly, when I asked Peter to join me onstage at a symposium I hosted at Villanova, on “Media and Millennials,” he was there. And I will always remember how excited his co-panelist, NBC News anchor Chuck Todd, was to meet Peter King.

• PETER KING’S FAVORITE STORIES: Peter looks back over his 29 years at Sports Illustrated and The MMQB.

3. Conflict Resolved
When Peter approached me about joining his founding crew in the to-be-formed MMQB, I was flattered and very interested yet, at the time, also under contract to ESPN for both television and writing. I had to somehow convince ESPN to keep me on the television side yet allow me to switch writing allegiances to Sports Illustrated, one of ESPN’s largest competitors in that space.

My agent at the time refused to even have that conversation with ESPN, so certain that the answer would be a hard “no.” I decided to bypass my agent and ask ESPN directly:

“I really want to remain a presence with you on the TV side, but have a writing opportunity outside of ESPN that I would like to pursue.”

The ESPN executive looked skeptical: “With whom?”

“Well, you see, Peter King is going to have this site…”

The executive interrupted me: “Yes, we know about it. He wants you to be part of it?


After a slight pause he said, “With Peter? O.K.”

Done. ESPN knew what a credible and popular forum The MMQB would be with Peter headlining it, and obviously felt some benefit to having me there.

4. Upfront
One year, Peter invited us MMQB writers up to present at an advertising upfront, where SI and The MMQB put on their best possible faces for potential advertisers and sponsors. Peter ran a Q&A with the writers to feature our work. He asked Jenny Vrentas, Robert Klemko and Emily Kaplan a few softball questions about their favorite (or his favorite) stories, letting them share how they architected their most impressive work. When it came time for Peter to bring me in, he asked: “So, Andrew, most people think the Business of Football stuff is really boring, how do you deal with that?” Mind you, this was a presentation to attract, not turn off sponsors. I pivoted well, but laughed inside. That’s Peter.

5. Unqualified support
I have been in the business world for 30 years now and have seen a lot of bosses. I have never seen one as genuinely and sincerely supportive as Peter. And, most importantly, that support is evident even when no one is looking.

Last year I was talking to an NFL team president who told me that he and Peter were recently talking about my work. He then volunteered that Peter had said to him, “Andrew is the best writer about the business of football that there ever was, and it’s not even close.” I was floored; he had never said that to me (my ego probably couldn’t have handled it). The fact he said it without me knowing it showed even more confidence, faith and support in me.

Even as the only “over-30” writer among the original MMQB staff, I—like everyone—need positive reinforcement now and then, and Peter would always provide it.

I know this to be true: every person needs someone in their career to believe in them more than they believe in themselves. That someone, for all of us, has been Peter.

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