As the 2018 season kicks off in earnest, it appears the NFL will not implement a full anthem policy this year, according to ESPN. But does that mean games will be filled with protests during the anthem now? Not necessarily. Let’s discuss.
No anthem policy for 2018
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported early Sunday morning that the NFL likely will not institute a formal policy this season on standing during the national anthem. For the past two years, as you surely know by now, players have knelt, remained seated, or raised fists during the playing of the national anthem as a way to raise awareness about police brutality and racial inequity.
Many fans consider protesting during the anthem unpatriotic, and even though players have taken great pains to emphasize they aren’t protesting the military, opportunistic critics have fanned the flames of the “unpatriotic” angle, to the point that the original intent of the protests is long buried.
As a result, any attempt to find common ground has failed. “Too many people have stances too strong to figure out a compromise,” Schefter wrote, in perhaps the understatement of this entire controversy, “although talks will continue.”
The NFL attempted in May to institute a unilateral policy mandating that players stand for the anthem or wait out the anthem in locker rooms, at the risk of fines. But the league, in its usual way, did so without consulting the players’ union, and the result was a mess of a proposal that satisfied no one — not the players, who filed a grievance over the policy, and not the president the policy was trying to appease. So that policy has been tabled, at least for the 2018 season.
Will this mean more protests?
One of critics’ go-to lines regarding the protests is, “If I protest at my job, I lose my job. Why do the players get to protest?” The simple reason is this: because there’s no NFL policy regarding protests, it doesn’t matter what might happen at any other workplace, non-disruptive protest is permitted. But does this mean we’ll see an explosion of protests once again? Possibly, but not necessarily.
Many players recognize that wrapping protests in the anthem quickly became counterproductive and obliterated any chance the players have of getting their message out. Separating the protests and the anthem would be a better way to get support for key causes, these players note.
“Me personally, I really want to get this conversation to move away from the anthem,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins told the Washington Post this week. “I think it has served its purpose.”
No players explicitly protested during the first game of the 2018 season between the Atlanta Falcons and Jenkins’ Eagles. Philadelphia’s Michael Bennett walked around during the anthem and took a seat shortly before it ended.
It’s worth noting that the NBA has a requirement for players to stand during the anthem, and players comply with that policy without incident in the far more socially conscious league — but the NBA also permits its players measures of individuality, such as the clothes they wear before and during games, that the NFL does not.
Regardless, we go into a third season of protests during the anthem remaining a possible issue. We’ll have to wait and see what happens next, and chances are we won’t have to wait very long.
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