Sports Illustrated has a story out about a new meeting between NFL owners where several proposals were discussed about how the league should respond to the national anthem controversy that is costing the sport so much in terms of reputation, ticket sales, and television ratings. According to the story, the owners tossed around various ideas about how to handle the players who continue to protest the flag; one proposal involved leaving it up to the home team as to whether or not the players would emerge for the playing of the anthem. If they choose to, a 15-yard penalty may be incurred for any team whose players opt to kneel.
It’s unlikely that this “solution” to the problem will be adopted. It suffers from a number of logical problems, not the least of which is the fact that it would levy the same punishment against standing, respectful members of a team as it would their kneeling colleagues. Second, it’s not clear if NFL fans really want to see the choice of kneeling/not-kneeling begin to have a material effect on the games themselves. Third, this rule would be wildly unpopular among players and it would not surprise us if teams simply colluded to both either kneel or not kneel, thus nullifying the penalty’s effects. Finally, reports have it that most of the NFL’s team owners are not interested in taking any action that would force their players to stand for the anthem.
News of the proposed rule was met with scorn by sportswriters on Tuesday.
“I hope the NFL isn’t spending much time on this idea. Because it’s a dumb idea,” tweeted Gary Parrish of CBS Sports.
“Better be a short discussion,” said Yahoo’s Pat Forde. “That is industrial-strength stupid.”
On the other hand, most of these sportswriters have gone out of their way to support the anthem protests, which puts them in a distinct minority when compared to the actual fans of the game. NFL die-hards are sticking by the league, but it’s clear that the majority of fans are tired of seeing the flag, the police, and the military disrespected before the start of every game.
The most likely outcome of the Atlanta conference will be some vague policy that will allow each team owner to treat the anthem protests as they will. Some owners – Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, for instance – will probably implement a hard and fast rule against the protests. Others will allow their players to kneel. Still others may require that their players stay in the locker room until the anthem is finished, thus avoiding the controversy altogether.
One thing is certain: the NFL needs to find some way to get beyond this divisive situation if it wants to salvage its place atop the American sports marketplace. This will be the third season that the league has these protests hanging over its head; it may not get a fourth chance to make things right.