Henry Browne/Getty Images

It's the eve of NFL training camps and, of course, all of the attention is off the field as the Miami Dolphins' rulebook is leaked to the media, sending the NFL back to the drawing board with its ill-conceived anthem policy

By Conor Orr
July 20, 2018

Back in May, when a panicked NFL constructed its national anthem policy of straw, the rest of the football world was ready for one stiff news cycle to huff and puff, blowing it all to pieces.

That news cycle started on Thursday around 3:45 in the afternoon (Eastern Time), and by 8:43 p.m. that same night, the league had issued a joint statement with its players union agreeing that “no rules relating to the anthem will be issued for the next several weeks” while confidential discussions between both sides play out.

Five turbulent hours might have changed the most politically charged and divisive decision in modern NFL history. At the very least, it seems players will have a place at the negotiating table this time. Here’s how we got to this moment, and what you might have missed:

• The Associated Press got its hands on a copy of the Dolphins’ team rules Thursday, which included a brief mention of “proper anthem conduct.” In that document, anthem conduct fell under the umbrella of “conduct detrimental to the team” which, according to the collective bargaining agreement, could give a club the freedom to suspend a player for up to four games. When the NFL created its anthem policy, it gave teams the freedom to make its own “work rules” regarding the anthem.

• The optics of a team suspending a player for a quarter of the season—more than some players get for violating the NFL’s domestic violence policy—were horrid, although there was some fine print that needs to be considered. According to a team source, the Dolphins were filing their rulebook in accordance with NFL guidelines, which mandate that teams “must publish and make available to all players at the commencement of preseason training camp a complete list of the discipline that can be imposed for both designated offenses within the limits set by the maximum schedule referred to in Section 1 above and for other violations of reasonable Club rules.” There was no cemented national anthem policy, but they had to include any potential discipline in the rulebook before the team reported to training camp or else they would have lost the right to insert it retroactively. Putting it there amounted to a placeholder of sorts while they figured out the best way to address the situation. So could the Dolphins have actually suspended a player for 25% of the season for kneeling? Yes. Would they have? It’s unclear, though it didn’t appear likely.

• This was going to be the first of many, many stories just like it. The Dolphins are almost certainly not unique, but were merely the first team to have their rules leak out into the public. This would have eroded any chance the NFL had to save face with its players before the preseason opener in Canton on Aug. 2, creating the potential for disaster during a celebratory weekend.

• NFL public relations and the NFL Players Association released a statement a few minutes before 9 p.m. saying, in part, that “the NFL and NFLPA reflect the great values of America, which are repeatedly demonstrated by the many players doing extraordinary work in communities across our country to promote equality, fairness and justice.”

The league did not respond to a request for comment on when, exactly, discussions between the NFL and NFLPA peaked and when this agreement to freeze all policies came to fruition.

On one hand, the policy freeze provides commissioner Roger Goodell a second chance to do something he has failed to do time and time again throughout his tenure as commissioner: Enact a policy with broad support from both players and owners, while simultaneously removing the league from the long slog of an endless legal controversy. Standing up to the President, who admittedly utilizes anthem protests as a mechanism to incite his supporters and bolster his poll numbers, would go further toward bridging player-league relations than anything else Goodell has accomplished over his career.

On the other hand, Thursday brought up a question many had asked when the anthem policy was first announced in late May: How could they not see this coming from a mile away?

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PRESS COVERAGE

What the hell actually happened on the field edition...

1. Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley is ignoring the contract noise.

2. The Bears await the arrival of first-rounder Roquan Smith, who is still waging a contract battle.

3. Speaking of the Bears, Allen Robinson seems ready to roll.

4. The Bengals are preparing to report in a week, and they’ll see a version of Joe Mixon more than 10 pounds lighter from a year ago.

5. The Browns did an Office spoof. Content, man.

6. The Raiders seem to be clearing the decks for the arrival of Brent Musberger as their new play by play man.


THE KICKER

One thing we can probably all agree on: The Rolling Stones are good

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