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NFL Rules Against Peaceful, On-Field Protests

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Source: San Francisco 49ers National Anthem Kneeling

It has been nearly two years since the day former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, chose to take a knee during the national anthem in a preseason football game, an action that would spark an ongoing debate amongst the public. Following that game, Kaepernick explained this choice by saying,

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

And he would continue to kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the games to follow. Kaepernick would subsequently leave the 49ers in March of 2017 to become a free agent and has since not been signed by a team, with many speculating that this could be due to the anthem controversy that comes with him. As a result of all of this, Kaepernick and other National Football League (NFL) players who followed his form of peaceful protest against racial equality and police brutality would become polarizing figures, gaining many supporters as well as many denouncers maligning with these actions.

After the 2017-2018 season, a season that saw record-lows in viewership and had fans on each side of the debate regarding whether kneeling during the anthem should be allowed, both boycotting the league and its brand, NFL owners approved a new national anthem policy to be implemented in the upcoming year. The new policy mandates that all players and personnel on the field during the playing of the national anthem must stand to show their respect or the team will be subject to financial penalties if not followed. The new policy also gives players and personnel the option of remaining in the locker room while the anthem plays if they prefer to do so.

Source: Oakland Raiders National Anthem Kneeling

The ruling on the new policy apparently came through league executives polling owners on the matter, with the executives then knowing how the owners would vote on the policy based only on these unofficial tests that included asking for a show of hands to see who supported the change before it was officially made, contradicting a statement made by NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, who made the policy change out to be a unanimous vote decided on by the owners. San Francisco 49ers owner, Jed York, and at least one other owner abstained from this process.

Some team owners and general managers have commented on the executives’ decisions on the policy. The New York Jets chairman and CEO, Christopher Johnson, has publicly come out and said that he plans to personally pay for any fine that a player or staff member of his receives for not following the new guidelines for the anthem, stating,

“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules. 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. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t.”

Reasons for the change range from many calling this act of kneeling disrespectful to the nation and its military, to others saying that players are protected by their First Amendment right to protest in this manner and that the issues being protested have to do with racial inequalities in the United States that are not being properly addressed, not for lack of respect to the military or law enforcement.

Matthew McElroy, an incoming freshman linebacker at the University of Pennsylvania, who has played football since he was in first grade, does not agree with the changes being made in the NFL. He said, “I don’t agree with this change. I believe players should have the ability to speak up for what they believe in. If they do this by taking a knee during the national anthem, then I believe it should be supported. I support taking a knee during the national anthem as long as it is not for the purpose of disrespecting the military.”

When asked how he felt about leaving what one believes in and one’s political views away from your job, which is a common point raised in this national anthem protest debate, McElroy stated, “I believe that players should be allowed to use the platform they are given to speak out for their personal beliefs. They work and put their bodies on the line every day for their organization, so they should be able to use the power they have to speak up about their beliefs.”

President Trump, who has been very vocal about his disapproving of kneeling during the anthem, said he was pleased with the change that was made, and also said, “If a player is not standing for the national anthem, maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” He would later tweet, “NFL, no escaping to Locker Rooms!”

In a statement released by the NFL’s Players Association (NFLPA), the group said, “The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new “policy. NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about.” The NFLPA will closely review the new policy and are ready to “challenge any aspect” that is inconsistent with the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Marist College’s Justice Witowski, a rising junior wide receiver for the Red Foxes, referred to the policy change as, “The NFL doing everything within their power to fix their ratings.” Witowski would go on to say,

“They [The NFL] want to see less of these peaceful protests and would rather pay less attention to these real world issue that are the reasons for players not standing.”

When asked about what this decision says about the NFL and their valuation of their players, Witowski stated, “This goes to show that Roger Goodell does not care about his players and only cares about ratings and money. If he cared about his players, the men who go out there every Sunday and do their jobs, he would actually take the time to listen to what they’re saying when they kneel. The fact of the matter is that these players are protesting inequality, they aren’t standing because it’s their right and they should not be forced to stand for the anthem of a country that does not protect everyone’s rights equally the way they [the United States] say they do.”

While the policy is expected to start being enforced this upcoming season, the NFL is currently still working on officially defining what respect for the flag will mean in their rules. Since the vote has been passed, there have also been reports that several players plan to sit out this upcoming season until players like Colin Kaepernick get signed to a team.

By: Mohamad Hashash

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