A Storm is Brewing in the NFL
The Players' union plans to fight back against the leagues new rule that fines those who kneel during the anthem.
“The vote by NFL club CEOs today contradicts the statements made to our player leadership by Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Chairman of the NFL’s Management Council John Mara about the principles, values and patriotism of our League.” – Statement from the NFL Players Association.
A popular addition to the protests includes locked arms as a team— full press conference.
We all know the controversy centered around the NFL and kneeling during the national anthem by now. Over the course of the past two years, the players in the NFL (led by now exiled Colin Kaepernick) have been practicing their right to protest before games in response to the violent treatment of minorities across the United States. The protests started in the NFL during the 2016 preseason, as Colin Kaepernick sat down during the “Star Spangled Banner,” but due to the lack of coverage for preseason games, the true media storm didn’t start until 49ers teammate, Eric Reid, joined in the protest. Soon the protests saw new participants, all in different forms as week one began. The first player to kneel during the official season was Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos, during the NFL kickoff game. Marshall was joined by eleven other players in week one, and the protests continued in the form of kneeling and raised fists. Ever since the 2015-2016 season, the US has been split on whether or not these players have the right to protest, or if they are part of a larger corporation that must adhere to the rules.
The 2016-2017 season saw the line become further divided as Donald Trump began to vocalize his displeasure with the lack of discipline on the NFL’s part. The NFL also saw it’s first Caucasian protester with the Cleveland Browns’ tight end, Seth DeValve, during a preseason game. This created a two-sided argument between some fans and players in the NFL, and put the rule makers in a peculiar position. Do they cater to the fans who believe that the flag should be respected during the national anthem, or do they aid to the players that are voicing their beliefs on the massive stage that the NFL provides?
Well, following the 2017 season, which saw the protests continue in the form of locked arms, kneeling and fists in the air, the NFL has made it’s first decision in regards to the league’s policy. The notion passed 31-0, with the 49ers abstaining, and the league has officially made it against their policy to kneel during the national anthem. However, this leaves a bit of room as far as player protests go; the league is allowing players to stay in the locker room during the anthem if they do not want to stand during the ceremony, moving back to a similar policy the league held in 2009. Except now, if a player does not stand during the anthem and “respect” the flag when they are on the field, they will be fined. The Players’ Union plans to fight back against the ruling, having not been consulted. However, the players who wish to get their message across have a chance to make a true statement here (no matter the form, the protests will not be silenced): a knee, a fist in the air or arms locked in unison, the message is all the same. The players can still be heard, and continue to make a difference on the field and in the community.
The NFL’s new rule is missing the point; the players aren’t protesting because they don’t support the anthem or the country. They are voicing their displeasure with the violence that has been inflicted on innocent people around the country. This entire debate is misconstrued through the media; this isn’t anti-America, it’s anti unwarranted violence. The players are using the platform that the NFL provides because they believe it can make a difference by reaching people everywhere in an instant. The NFL and viewers often tend to misrepresent the purpose of the protest as disrespect, which was never the case.
The protests have seen different forms, showing that the intentions behind the player’s actions are not superficial. Players like the Denver Broncos’ linebacker, Brandon Marshall, has made it a point to understand the other side, aiding in bridging the gap. Marshall, one of the first NFL players to follow Kaepernick’s lead, has recently been awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. award for courage, and it is largely in part due to his work in the Denver community to create awareness and a mutual respect between the police force and the cities inhabitants. He has received death threats, towards both him and his family, but nothing has stopped him from continuing the dialogue. However, not all NFL players who have taken a knee or protested have worked as diligently in the community, and to some that may make the protests seem disingenuous. The problem is that the league and the players need to see eye to eye if they truly want to get somewhere.
With the work of the NFL, the message behind the protests can gain serious traction, but it requires cooperation on both sides. Although, there is growing concern around the league that continuing to protest, in any facet, will result in difficulty finding a job— just ask Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick. While the new rule, keeping players inside the locker room if they do not wish to stand, puts a band-aid on the real issue, the NFL needs to provide the platform for players to voice their opinions. The players may feel betrayed, choosing to make it a fight instead, while seeking to retain their right to take a knee if they see fit. They are losing the original purpose behind the protests, which is to create a dialogue that generates change. It was never about taking a knee, it was about voicing the unjust actions, and the players must learn to adapt their protests to stay focused on the true issue. With a combination of the player’s tenacity and the NFL’s willingness to aid in a unified dialogue, the true purpose behind the protests can be addressed. Instead, it is a war between two sides of the same coin.