A proposed solution to one of the most divisive issues in sports culture over the past year was handed down earlier yesterday morning as commissioner Rodger Goodell issued a statement that included the new penalties for players kneeling during the national anthem before kickoff.
This new rule, which states that individual teams will have the power to punish players who refuse to stand during, would allow players to be fined by their respective teams as a result of kneeling; serving in direct response to the public outcry of fanbases who disagreed with the act.
This rule was uniformly adopted by all 32 league owners on Wednesday morning, but the backlash this choice may bring upon could spell trouble for the league and the social hierarchy it has created- despite not having much firepower to begin with.
Colin Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee in response to police brutality sparked a debate the likes of which have not been seen on a national sports platform hitherto, with virtually everyone rushing to take a distinct stance on the issue and determine the legality of performing such an act. Politics aside, Kaepernick inspired nearly thirty other players, including former Pro Bowl safety Eric Reid, to join him in protest, a decision that has cost him and countless others multiple job opportunities over the past twelve months out of a growing fear of picking the wrong side in the debate. Rumors of blackballing around the league have grown substantially; and led even further questioning of the notion of patriotism in our modern society. Are you spitting in the face of servicemen and women around the world if you kneel during the anthem? Or are you merely exercising your first amendment rights, something that these very same individuals fight to preserve on a daily basis?
While the fallout of this decision may serve as a short-term solution to the problem of certain players sending a negative message, the league has additionally come forward and said that players would be allowed to remain in the locker-room if they did not wish to stand for the anthem, a tidbit of information that I feel completely negates the purpose of this decision by the league. The plan to keep these players in the locker-room, seemingly highlighting the individuals who want to bring attention to the issues mentioned prior, will only create further alienation around the national media landscape and lead to more scrutiny for these individuals. This could lead to further discrimination around the league, more public resentment towards players choosing to stay off the field, and further loss of revenue for the league (something they certainly don’t want with basketball seeing a spike in popularity over the past three seasons). Not to mention, the league cannot directly punish the players for their decision until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached in a few years, only adding fuel to the fire for seasons to follow. It’s a minor solution to a major problem and won’t do much to fix things.
The NFL has traveled inversely to the NBA in terms of allowing their players to have a platform to discuss social issues, and this decision one again serves as a perfect reminder of Rodger Goodell’s ineptitude when it comes to taking a definitive stance on hot button topics running rampant around the league. Whether it ranges from domestic violence (widely regarded as a light punishment on former league running back Ray Rice) to recreational drug use (ala Josh Gordon), he has consistently found ways to create small concessions towards a bigger issue-which has rarely worked out for him in the past. If Goodell was smart, he’d rethink his slight modification towards the issue; and instead focus on creating more unity between the players and owners in a league as popular and expansive as his own.