Watching National Football League viewership and game attendance decline due to players’ National Anthem protests, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell penned a letter to owners to “move past” the controversy. When President Donald Trump weighed in Sept. 22 at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, he antagonized black NFL players and Players Association President DeMarcus Smith who insists that players are within their Constitutional rights to take a knee or sit during the National Anthem. Following the lead of 29-year-old former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick who kneeled at a San Diego Chargers game Aug. 26, 2016, many black players followed suit. “I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick explained to the press Aug. 27, 2017. However the situation morphed in 2017, it’s about disrespecting the flag.
DeMarcus Smith can say all he wants about black NFL players not disrespecting the flag. But if they’re following Kaepernick’s flag protests, it’s precisely about disrespecting a flag symbolic of racial injustice and police brutality. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Oct. 9 that any player that “disrespects the flag” won’t be allowed to play, a far cry from Sept. 25 when Jones kneeled with his players before the National Anthem at the Arizona Cardinals’ game. Jones was dealing with mixed messages from Goodell, saying, on the one hand, he respected players rights to protest but, at the same time, he rejected Trump weighing in on the problem. Trump wasn’t ambiguous when he told a Huntsville crowd owners should “fire” players for not standing during the National Anthem. Trump went to the NFL rulebook that says players and coaches “should” stand during the National Anthem.
Protesting outside Goodell’s Manhattan office, protesters shouted “racism” Aug. 28 over Kaepernick not hired by any NFL teams for 2017 season. Goodell tried to play both sides against the middle, supporting Smith’s arguments about protesting but understanding concerns about the NFL antagonizing fans. In the last month, it’s become clear that ordinary NFL fans reject protesting against the flag before NFL games. Goodell thought he would curry favor with NFL players by telling Trump to but out of the controversy. Goodell’s letter today to NFL owners that he wants players to stand during the National Anthem comes full circle, realizing the protests have hurt the game. “Like many of our fans,” Goodell wrote. “We believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem. It’s an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us.”
Goodell came full circle because fans were tearing up their tickets and tuning out NFL games. Goodell flip-flop mirrors the reality of the NFL as a bottom-line business. Expecting to earn $18 billion in 2017, revenue has already declined, threatening to hurt the NFL’s coffers. Placating the Players Association, Goodell said the NFL wants to create an appropriate forum for sharing concerns expressed by kneeling during the National Anthem. Players’ Association President DeMarcus Smith isn’t honest when he says the protests during the National Anthem aren’t about disrespecting the flag. Kaepenick made clear he wouldn’t stand for a flag that symbolizes racial injustice. What Kaepernick doesn’t get is that the flag symbolizes racial equality and social justice, whether or not racial injustice, police brutality or a lack of equal opportunity plagues certain groups in the U.S.
Goodell can’t have it both ways: Placating African American players and protecting the NFL’s bottom line. If flag protests antagonize ordinary fans, it’s bad for the NFL. Now that Goodell got over his fit against Trump, he’s returning to his senses telling players he expects them to stand for the National Anthem. “The Controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on underlying issues . . “ said Goodell, completing his 180, realizing today that disrespecting the flag hurts the NFL’s bottom line. When Vice President Mike Pence walked out of the Indianpolis Colts v. 49ers game Sunday, Oct. 8 watching some 20 49ers kneel, the pressure was heaped on Goodell to do something. Talking about addressing controversial topics in a public forum, Goodell wants to put to rest NFL players’ flag protests, doing nothing but hurt the game.
NFL Players Association President DeMarcus Smith must stop fanning flames and explain to players that it’s inappropriate to hijack NFL games to protest racial inequality and police brutality in the black community. Kaepernick made clear that his kneeling linked the National Anthem and flag to racial injustice and police brutality. Kaepernick misunderstands that the flag stands for social justice and racial equality. Expecting privately employed NFL players to use game-day to launch protests undermines the First Amendment allowing all U.S. citizens protest in the public forum. NFL games are not public places but proprietary venues where the league performs sporting events for entertainment purposes. If NFL players wish to exercise their Constitutional rights they should do so out of the work place where it hurts team-owners and the NFL.