It was Malcolm X who said “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.” We need to sit down and have a serious talk about the truth of what is going on around us at this time in history.

Have you been seeing the term “anthem protests” a lot in your newsfeed, or hearing it in the news lately? That’s because there has been a wildly debated issue that has transcended football and pervaded the national conscience. The National Football League recently passed a new policy regarding what they refer to as “national anthem protests”. The NFL’s new policy requires personnel and players to stand during the playing of the national anthem prior to football games but gives them the option to stay in the locker room if they choose not to stand.

Protests during the national anthem started with Colin Kaepernick in 2016. He protested to raise awareness of social inequalities, police brutality and systemic oppression, concerning people of color in this country. He began by sitting out the national anthem, then, after consulting with a former green beret, decided to take a knee during his protest.
It seems that the team owners got together and agreed that they are offended by the players making a statement that things need to change in this country. They are telling players that they can keep those kinds of statements off of their fields and out of their sight. Look at what this powerful industry has already done to silence the issues of concussions and CTE (that’s for another article). This is a whole different, and in many ways, much uglier beast.

Know any other groups in history that required their members to stand and salute their countries no matter what? Follow that hyperlink. Yes, I went there, because it is that kind of an issue.

President Trump decided to get involved last season, as the protests spread to other teams, and included more and more players. Trump took to Twitter (as is his custom) to describe how he wishes these players (mostly black) would be treated, saying “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!!!”
That very next Sunday we saw a beautiful thing happen. Black and white league personnel, players and owners alike, taking a knee together and condemning President Trumps rhetoric. Even the (very Texas, very conservative) Dallas Cowboys took part. The Cowboys decided to kneel before the anthem and returned to their feet for the playing of our nation’s national anthem. The crowd still booed them. This is when it became painfully clear that the true issue was not with respect of the anthem at all…
Then, seemingly out of fear of politics getting involved, the league reacted:
Under the change approved by team owners at the Spring League Meeting, individual clubs will have the power to set their own policies to ensure the anthem is being respected during any on-field action. If a player chooses to protest on the sideline, the NFL will fine the team.
The owners of the teams themselves approved this… but chose to all handle it “at the club level” instead of league wide. The NFL seemingly wants to insulate itself from public backlash by putting the ramifications and punishments in team hands. They also hedge against grievances filed against it from the NFLPA in avoiding being the direct entity that doles out punishment to the individual players.
Here is the saddest part… the statement from Roger Goodell:
“The policy adopted today was approved in concert with the NFL’s ongoing commitment to local communities and our country — one that is extraordinary in its scope, resources, and alignment with our players”
^That is incredibly laughable, and almost a slap in the face. If I were the league, I would soon announce some small initiative to help in underserved (black) communities to save face… but even that would not. Does this sound like something that is aligned with players? Does this seem like a commitment to helping the local communities??
It gets worse. More from Goodell:
It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case.
Hmm… He goes on to give power to the misguided notion that these protests were about patriotism or respect for the flag / military…  the opposition to these protests simply try to discredit and distract from the actual issue being brought up… they want to make it about “patriotism”. Seems more like “nationalism” to me. Look up the difference. Can I just scream that these protests WERE NEVER ABOUT THE FLAG OR BEING PATRIOTIC!! It was to shed light on ways that we are not holding up the ideals of this country!! It was meant to bring awareness to the fact that we need more help, we need better justice. Protests, peaceful or otherwise (but in this case very peaceful) are the backbone of the United States of America (which itself has never had a perfect past). It’s all good, until the protests inconvenience someone. Until someone feels offended, or guilty… white guilt is a thing. Yet, the thing is, guilt should not be the end product. It should be treated more as an ingredient to action. We need each other’s help.
If your significant other were to tell you in a peaceful manner that something in your union needs to change… that they wanted to make you aware and really need help with it, how would you react? Do you shut them up and tell them to be grateful for the relationship? Or do you sit down and try to figure out where they are coming from and what you both can do to hit smooth sailing again?
I know this is a difficult connection for some of us to make, as many of us don’t care about each other on that same level… but let’s try to grasp the concept that we are here in this great melting pot of a country together. We built a union and invited the tired and the poor. Social mobility / social accountability and reform are things we as Americans take pride in. We literally based the ideas of this country on liberty, freedom (of speech being among the multifaceted forms) and justice. FOR ALL. These are the ideals that are supposed to define us.
Philadelphia Eagles Safety, and leader of the Players Coalition had this to say in a statement: “What NFL owners did today was thwart the players’ constitutional rights to express themselves and use our platform to draw attention to social injustices like racial inequality in our country. Everyone loses when voices get stifled”.
The NFL Players Association reported that it was not reached out to or consulted about the new policy before owners voted on it.” That lends more credence to this statement from Chris Long:

We later heard from an NFL Spokesperson who admitted that there was no formal vote among the owners, as Goodell asserted. That is shady, at best and vile at worst.
In a series of follow up statements, the league continued to assert that NFL Players and personnel would be required to stand and respect the flag and the anthem if they are on the sidelines. This, therefore, implies that they view the inverse as being true: that players, by kneeling and protesting to bring awareness to injustice, are disrespecting the flag and anthem. How very tone deaf and uncompassionate.
Vice President Mike Pence gleefully celebrated in reaction to the anthem policy change on Twitter, simply writing: “#Winning”
What is he winning? Against whom?
The entire idea that this is a debate is truly sad… we need more conversation surrounding the issues of this country and what we can do to rectify them, while edifying the connections we have with one another.

I recently heard Mike Florio make a very incisive observation: “Politics have become like sports in that we’ve become as loyal to our political views as we are to our sports teams; and it’s become part of our identity. We are incapable of taking a step back from what we believe and listening to the other side”.

If you are the one so tightly holding to your stance, screaming so loud in outrage at those who are “disrespecting America”, then you are a part of the problem. To be either so imbecilic, or so blindly and willingly misled as to actually believe these men are protesting America, you are not listening and not hearing. Unfortunately, many are like this. We need all be committed to at the very least listening. Please watch the video I just linked.

I don’t expect this to be the end of these issues, or even for the players that sacrifice their bodies for the National Football League to go quietly into the night. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out in the coming NFL season; and furthermore, how it plays out in the thread of history. This is a fight that we are all in together in one way or another. I hope that the great irony of forcing people to stand for a song about how great it is to live in a country where you’re free to do what you want and express your opinions is not lost on us.