In 2016, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick made a political statement by kneeling during the national anthem at the start of a regular season football game. His silent protest was to draw attention to racial injustice in America, particularly with regards to the way black men are unfairly treated by police, often with deadly results.
Last year, more NFL players took up the gesture and “taking a knee” became a huge controversy within the league and throughout society at large. The original message – racial injustice – became muddled in calls from opponents that kneeling for the national anthem is unpatriotic and disrespectful to the flag, the country and the military.
— 🇪🇨 J.A.M.🇪🇨 (@MrAcosta89) May 23, 2018
President Donald Trump’s statements last year were some of the worst. He called the protest – you know, something you have a right to do in the U.S. – a “total disrespect of our heritage” and said that any player who doesn’t stand for the national anthem should be fired by the team owners on the spot. His exact words were, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired.” Classy.
It looks like the NFL is taking the president’s suggestion under advisement. The NFL Commissioner released a statement Wednesday that in the upcoming football season, players and all other personnel on the field will be required to stand for the national anthem to “show respect for the flag and the Anthem.” The league will be revising a current league rule that requires all players to be present on the field for the anthem so that those who “choose not to stand” can stay in the locker room until it is over.
Statement from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pic.twitter.com/1Vn7orTo1R
— NFL (@NFL) May 23, 2018
The statement says that clubs whose players or personnel refuse to stand for the anthem while on the field will be fined and the NFL Commissioner will “impose appropriate discipline” on the individual in question. Though the statement does not include what that discipline will be, Sports Illustrated reports that the league is considering a 15-yard penalty be charged against the team whose players kneel – clearly a half-baked idea because players on both teams kneeling would cancel out the penalty.
The NFL: Constantly striving to come up with rules stupider than some of their previous rules https://t.co/FzXtfBAGqn
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) May 22, 2018
Public response to the decision was largely negative. Players, sports jounalists and activists all came out to remind everyone that kneeling for the anthem was never about disrespecting the flag. It was about feeling disenfranchised and abandoned, even targeted by the very ideas that the flag represents.
— Lance Moore (@LanceMoore16) May 23, 2018
If the NFL thing was about the flag & anthem, you’d be outraged when Trump doesn’t hold a hand over his heart & botches the words. If it was about troops, you’d be as pissed about Niger as about Benghazi. It’s not principle. It’s about control of brown bodies. Stop the bullshit.
— Jeffrey Wright (@jfreewright) May 23, 2018
— Malcolm Jenkins (@MalcolmJenkins) May 23, 2018
— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) May 23, 2018
A lot of players talked about the decision being indicative of owners caring about “the bottom line” more than social justice. New York Jets chairman Christopher Johnson proved he was above that assertion by announcing he would pay the fine for any of his players who chose to take a knee on the field.
“If somebody takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players,” Johnson said, “There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with and our players are on the front lines . . . There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.” Now if only someone would just hire Kaepernick.
There were some people – including the president – who agreed with the move. Actually, Donald Trump more than agreed with it, he suggested that the fine wasn’t harsh enough. In an interview with Fox News, he toyed with the idea of deportations for Americans who don’t respect the anthem.
“You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem,” he said, “You shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country. You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem. The NFL owners did the right thing.”
"You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem. You shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there. Maybe they shouldn't be in the country…the NFL owners did the right thing" -President @realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/bt36t4EX5u
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) May 24, 2018
Players are already looking at other ways to protest that won’t rack up fines for their teams. Early suggestions are remaining in the locker room for the anthem and choosing an on-field protest gesture other than kneeling.
“I talked to a former NFL player yesterday who has said that players are already talking about other ways in which they can protest.” @craigmelvin talks response to new NFL policy pic.twitter.com/opgMKznkUC
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) May 24, 2018
While admittedly a small sample size, some players are telling me they’re *considering* staying in locker room or making a different on-field gesture simply b/c they feel this new policy is a direct challenge to them. Before today, they hadn’t thought about demonstrating in ‘18.
— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) May 23, 2018