The NFL cannot win with the national anthem issue.
No matter what the league does, it loses. Some players will be upset if they’re not allowed on the field for the anthem anymore. If they’re allowed to be on the field for the anthem but are forced to stand at attention, that’s a whole new controversy. Some owners don’t want any more players kneeling to bring attention to social causes, and a group of very vocal fans feel that way too. Any solution you can come up with — or even sticking with the status quo — is going to upset a lot of people. There’s no way around that anymore.
And yet, the first leak to the media about a possible solution from the league’s spring meeting is really hard to fathom.
The NFL’s weird proposal to fix anthem issue
All right, just rip the Band-Aid off because this isn’t going to go over well with just about anyone. Here’s Albert Breer of The MMQB:
Where does one even start?
The first part of that is ripe for problems. What if the home team says it doesn’t want to come out but the visiting team does? The visiting team has to go along with it? Also, what happens if the home team wants to come out but the visitors don’t? Then the road team is forced to be on the sideline for the anthem, apparently.
This is also very anti-NFL, which wants everything to be uniform. Absolutely, positively everything. It has people on the sideline before every game — the famous “sock police” — making sure that every player’s uniform is in accordance with the rules. Yet, we’re going to have a league where half of the games don’t have any teams out for the anthem and half where both are out there, perhaps unwillingly? Sure.
15-yard penalties for kneeling
The second part of Breer’s tweet is stunning.
Imagine that a team has a player who has kneeled before and wants to again. Remember, the players are doing this for their voices to be heard on social issues. Apparently the league thinks it’s a good idea to have an official policing who is kneeling for the anthem like it’s a pass interference call. Players then are in a ridiculous spot, forced to stand for the anthem because if they kneel they’re hurting their team with an immediate penalty, and then fans on both sides of the issue are mad at them. (By the way, to avoid that you’d just see players from both teams stick together and kneel and the offsetting penalties for kneeling during the anthem … I can’t even finish the rest of that; every part of that sentence is utterly ridiculous to type out.)
So we’re facing a situation where your favorite team could be kicking off 15 yards further downfield — assuming kickoffs still exist — because someone took a knee for the anthem. When you take a step back and realize players would be penalized for trying to bring awareness to issues like police brutality and racial inequality … wow.
Impossible spot for NFL
Just because someone leaked an early proposal to the media doesn’t mean that’s what the NFL will settle on. Presumably it’s one of many ideas being floated. Maybe the NFL decided to float its worst idea so the subsequent ones will look better … though that gives the league a lot of credit. It spent three hours meeting on the issue Tuesday, SI.com reported.
But it illustrates one point: The NFL has no idea how to handle the situation.
If you gave commissioner Roger Goodell a time machine, he’d probably go back to August of 2016 when Colin Kaepernick started kneeling and he would’ve immediately implemented a policy like the NBA has, where players stand for the anthem. There would have been a brief stir and some angst, but the story wouldn’t have grown to what it has become. Here we are 21 months later and the anthem debate is still the most divisive, controversial issue the NFL faces. Fans on all sides of the topic will not budge an inch. Owners and players, in many instances, are at odds. There’s no way out for the NFL, without some significant collateral damage to a segment of their fans, players or owners. It’s a battle that can’t be won.
But we’ll just hope that whatever solution the NFL comes up with to minimize damage on the issue is better than the trial balloon it floated Tuesday afternoon.
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