NFL owners yield to Trump, bottom line
New policy states players must stand on the sidelines or remain in locker room during the national anthem
In the end, the megamillionaire NFL owners decided to take a knee.
Not a knee of protest or principle, as some of their employees pursued last season, but a knee of supplication. They bowed down to the royal leader, King Donald, hoping their new policy would satisfy his highness’s imperial ragings and lead him to halt his efforts to interrupt the flow of riches they enjoy.
The unanimous vote of NFL owners to require players to stand on the sidelines during the national anthem — or remain in the locker room — was not a bow to patriotism, but to their bottom lines, which President Trump was threatening by his harangues against the league, which seem to have riled up his base and may have contributed to a falloff in all-important NFL TV viewership. Teams are subject to fines if a player violates the new policy and teams can fine players who don’t show the “proper respect.”
The move came in response to black NFL players, led by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality against black citizens. It became a perfect issue for Trump, allowing him to combine his penchant for jingoistic patriotism and racial divisiveness. At one rally last September, Trump stoked a crowd by saying it would be great to see an NFL owner respond to a kneeling player by declaring, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired.”
Herald sports columnist Steve Buckley pans the move and points out, facetiously, that of course the policy won’t shift attention to which players remain in locker rooms, with reporters chasing them down to explain the message they are sending. He also ridicules the idea that players will be expected to stand respectfully, speculating that there will have to be some kind of “NFL Focus Police” to gauge whether players are comporting themselves with the proper bearing during the anthem.
A New York Times editorial framed the action of the owners in blunt terms. “Rather than show a little backbone themselves and support the right of athletes to protest peacefully, the league capitulated to a president who relishes demonizing black athletes,” it said.
Wondering, as Buckley did, exactly how the league will micromanage the edict to stand for the anthem, the editorial seems to urge some creative compliance with the new rule.
“It might be amusing, for example,” it says, “to see the owners tied in knots by players who choose to abide by the injunction to ‘stand and show respect’ — while holding black-gloved fists in the air. Or who choose to stand — while holding signs protesting police brutality. We look forward to many more meetings of fatootsed gazillionaires conducting many more votes on petty rules to ban creative new forms of player protest.”
Patriots safety and defensive captain Devin McCourty, who has knelt in the past to show his support for social justice and changes to police interactions with black communities, talked about the protests earlier this week on the Codcast. He said Trump “hijacked” the narrative to characterize the players’ moves as a show of disrespect to military personnel. Nothing could be further from the truth, McCourty said. He discussed the work he is involved with on criminal justice reform — and had high praise for team owner Robert Kraft and his son, team president Jonathan Kraft, for their willingness to also speak out on those issues.Today’s Times editorial zeroes in on Kraft, who occupies the awkward ground of being a long-time friend of Trump’s who seems to have soured on his transition from blustery billionaire to leader of the free world. The editorial points out that Trump’s attacks brought the players and owners together for a meeting last fall. The Times obtained a recording of the private meeting, where a more unguarded Kraft shared how he felt about Trump’s antics.
“The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don’t feel is in the best interests of America,” Kraft said of the take-a-knee protests. “It’s divisive, and it’s horrible.”