NFL's shamelessness only eclipsed by their incompetence in handling of anthem protest situation

Jay Asser 20:36 21/07/2018
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Many players in the NFL, including those on the San Francisco 49ers, continued kneeling last season.

United States President Donald Trump “can’t believe” that the talk over the NFL national anthem protests is “alive and well again”. He shouldn’t be surprised, and neither should anybody else, because the NFL – as they’ve so often done – have mishandled the entire situation.

The league continue to misstep on critical issues which threaten to damage their product. Previously it was concussions and the debilitating effect they have on players. Now, it’s a topic which has nothing to do with the play on the field, but everything to do with the players themselves and their social consciousness.

And the NFL refuse to pick a side, with their players on one end and Trump – along with his followers – on the other. By trying to appease both parties, the league has only managed to anger everyone. It’s classic NFL – they can’t help but shoot themselves in the foot at every opportunity.

Two months after the league decided on a rule which said every player and team had to stand for the anthem while on the field, and just hours after a report that the Miami Dolphins could impose a four-game suspension for protesting players, the NFL reacted to the backlash by halting any enforcement of the policy for the time being.

Now, the NFL and NFL Players Association will hold discussions in the hopes of reaching a compromise.

That, of course, drew the ire of Trump on Twitter as he again criticised the league and its players, while suggesting they be banned for a game on their first offence, and then suspended for the season without pay after the second instance.

The league was always going to receive some bad press and hand-wringing one way or the other. You just have to accept that when you’re dealing with such a contentious issue – in America, at least – of players kneeling during the national anthem.

Forget for a moment that the protests couldn’t be more peaceful and inoffensive, especially in the context of the straw-man argument that it’s an affront to the military and the concept of patriotism. Anyone with a brain and a shred of morality knows the players who kneel in protest are doing nothing wrong, and certainly nothing that should be punishable.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 19: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the National Federation of Independent Businesses 75th Anniversary Celebration on June 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis - Pool/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, because of who administers the executive branch of the US government, the protests were never going to go unbothered. But if you think Trump truly cares one iota about the national anthem and its sanctity, you’ve been suckered. What he really cares about is riling up and drawing the approval of the same people who put him in office.

Trump will never miss an opportunity to press on this hot-button issue. The NFL should have known this and committed to either defying him and letting him kick and scream for a bit, or silencing him by throwing him a bone and enacting an anti-kneeling policy.

Again, look at this from the most objective viewpoint possible and not from a standpoint of, you know, human decency. The NFL shouldn’t run its league based on the whims of the President, as powerful as he is, but if they wanted people to stop talking about this, or at least get it out of the news cycle, all they had to do was commit.

Instead, they’ve picked at their wounds by trying to play both sides without actually settling on a solution. And now everyone is talking about this and rehashing it all over again, just weeks out from training camp opening up. The NFL starts picking up steam in August ahead of the new season, but rather than the lead-up focusing on what’s going to happen on the field, it’ll be centred on an issue the league wishes would just die.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has proven time and time again to be clueless. As the shepherd of the league, appeasing owners is part of his job description, but the extent to which he’s carried out the agendas of others couldn’t be more transparent.

We know the league wants to cater to Trump and his rich supporters who own teams. You can’t do that and then try to buddy up to the players, because they won’t buy it.

Good luck keeping players from kneeling now. It’s not fair to say players will kneel simply out of spite – there are actual issues they’re protesting – but if they were on the fence before, the way the NFL has jerked them around may give them more incentive.

Congratulations NFL, you’ve painted yourself into a corner once again.

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