On May 23, 2018, the National Football League’s (NFL) owners voted to pass a rule requiring NFL players to either stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem, or remain in the locker room until the Anthem has been performed. The NFL stated that individual clubs will be fined if any of their personnel are on the field and do not stand during the National Anthem. The new rule also permits individual clubs to impose and pass down discipline upon their own personnel for not standing and “showing respect” for the Anthem.
The First Amendment only provides Freedom of Speech against the actions of the government, but a private entity, like the NFL, may require that its employees behave in a certain manner. The NFL’s decision to unilaterally pass a rule requiring its players to stand and “show respect” for the flag and the Anthem, or remain in the locker room until the Anthem has been performed, demonstrates the NFL’s failure and unwillingness to understand the social issues that inspired some of its players to protest.
A rule requiring players to stand during the playing of the Anthem is not unheard of or in itself egregious. In fact, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has a rule in place to discipline players who do not stand for the Anthem. The NBA’s rule, however, is included in the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and was collectively bargained for. As a result, the NBA has pledged to contribute over $100 million to various social justice initiatives. As for the NFL, the thirty-two league owners voted amongst themselves to put the new rule in place. In January of this year, the NFL did form a player-owner committee to address social justice issues; but unfortunately, it appears that the NFL is using the formation of this committee as consent to dismiss the protests undertaken by the players.
While the First Amendment does not apply to the NFL’s decision, the NFL’s decision undermines the very same values of freedom that the flag and the Anthem are meant to embody. The NFL is more concerned with the image and illusion of patriotism rather than actually working toward a country that all of its citizens can be proud of. The coerced result of the rule is not patriotism, but rather a moment manufactured for the purpose of preserving the NFL’s television ratings.
Remember, many of the players who engaged in kneeling or raising their fists during the National Anthem stated and reiterated that they were not interested in protesting the flag itself, but instead they wanted to raise awareness about police brutality in the Black community. In fact, Colin Kaepernick stated that a military veteran advised him to kneel during the Anthem because it was more respectful than sitting.
Is kneeling during the National Anthem to raise awareness for issues negatively impacting the Black community detrimental to the integrity of football? It appears that the NFL owners have answered this question with an affirmative yes. The southwest region of black law students association proudly stands against the owners and supports the players who desire to bring awareness to the issues facing their communities.