In this Dec. 10, 2017, file photo, San Francisco 49ers San Francisco 49ers' Eli Harold (57), Eric Reid (35) and Marquise Goodwin (11) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, in Houston. (David J. Phillip/AP, File)
Originally published Thursday, May 31, 2018 at 06:05a.m.
The National Football League has put its proverbial foot down when it comes to National Anthem protests.
We think it is a great idea that is long overdue.
The NFL this past week approved a new policy to head off National Anthem protests before they happen, according to the league. The measure mandates that players who are on the field must stand for the anthem but can remain in the locker room if they choose.
Teams could be fined by the league if their players sit or kneel, as many have done in protest of racial injustice and police brutality in recent seasons after NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s initial kneeling protest in 2016 earned nationwide attention. The fines or punishment of players and other personnel would be dictated by the individual teams.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell noted in a statement May 23 that “on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic.”
Some experts believe this “false perception” is at least one of the reasons why NFL ratings are down.
That may be a matter of debate. Americans are close to evenly divided over the NFL’s new policy. Forty-one percent of Americans say that teams should be fined if their players kneel in protest, while 44 percent say they should not, according to a Huffington Post/YouGov survey. The rest aren’t sure.
Views are divided along racial lines: half of white Americans but only 13 percent of black Americans approve of the fines. But the divide along political lines is even starker, with 81 percent of Donald Trump voters and just 12 percent of those who backed Hillary Clinton supporting fines levied against the teams.
Here’s how we see it: Imagine a business’ employee who chooses to protest something while on the job. If their behavior reflects poorly on the company, because they’re doing it while at work, their employment likely would or could come to an end.
So the NFL players lose their free speech? An employee of an entity that requires employees to not speak out while on the job does not lose their First Amendment rights by working there. It is a condition of employment – it is a contract they agree to. The “loss” of “free speech” is a slanted way to look at it; we see it as for the good of the “company.”
Similarly, we see player behavior standards as part of the job. As soon as those athletes put on the uniform and walk onto the field, they are acting as employees of the NFL — and very well paid employees at that.
The NFL’s new National Anthem policy is a reasonable and fair compromise, and it’s about time they implemented something like this.
We hope other professional sports leagues will follow suit.