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If the NFL wanted its new policy on the national anthem to make the issue go away, they were mistaken.
The issue of players kneeling to bring attention to social issues was dying down anyway late last season, but ironically the NFL gave it new life in its failed effort to make it disappear.
The NFL said all players on the field for the anthem will have to stand for it, and those who don’t want to stand for the anthem can stay in the locker room. The union isn’t happy about it. Players have spoken out against it. Politicians still found a way to use the entire ordeal to grandstand to their constituents. While 53 percent of NFL viewers said they supported the new policy in a Yahoo Sports/YouGov poll, it kicked up a new wave of criticism for the NFL.
One former teammate of Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid said the anthem policy makes the sacrifices of Reid and Kaepernick, who are both unsigned as free agents, “in vain.”
“Not the case” that Kaepernick, Reid were “villains”
Longtime receiver Torrey Smith, who played with Kaepernick and Reid on the San Francisco 49ers when those two kneeled during the anthem, immediately spoke out against the policy when it was passed last week. Smith, who is with the Carolina Panthers now, expanded on his stance after a workout Tuesday.
“I think when you see a reactive policy – and when I say that I mean something that’s done in response to what guys have done in the past – I always think that’s a problem, especially when the message has been changed,” Smith said, according to the Panthers’ transcript. “Guys aren’t against the military. [Kaepernick] originally started it against police brutality. It was never against the military, it was never about the military, but that narrative changed.
“The NFL is trying to do right by donating money to a lot of different causes that are helping people, oppressed areas in our country, underprivileged areas in our country, which is a great thing. But you do that and then you also tell your guys to stand up when they’re protesting when, honestly, I thought it had died off in a lot of different ways. [When] you have the league putting this in, it almost makes it seem like a guy like Kaepernick or Eric Reid – the guys who started it – what they did was in vain, that they were villains. That’s not the case.”
The policy could “stir things up”
It’s undeniable that the narrative got changed — it was particularly stunning how some turned it into the players being against the military, like Smith said — but the story rapidly got out of control for the NFL.
Fearing everyone from a loud minority of disgruntled fans to more mean tweets from President Donald Trump, the NFL passed a policy when it probably would have been better off leaving the issue alone. It didn’t do any good for the league to silence players who were bringing attention to important issues that mattered to them.
Smith commented that the policy could “stir things up,” which is what the NFL thought it was eliminating.
“I think it could stir things up, which is the problem because you’re stirring things up because you’ve been told to be quiet,” Smith said, according to the Panthers. “It could’ve been done together to figure out what we can do to move forward and what would be best for the players. The whole reason guys were protesting was to draw awareness to something. To take that away and be, ‘Hey, don’t do that anymore,’ like you’re anti-American or something like people try to paint – it is very frustrating to continue to see that false narrative.
“You’re going to see reactive things from guys, probably. I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. But if you do it, you see it, it takes away even further from what the message was, which was against police brutality, which evolved to the criminal justice system and a lot of other inequalities that we have in this country. So it’s frustrating to see that the NFL had the opportunity to kind of right the wrongs and change the narrative that’s best for everyone – people who are offended by protests and a league that’s 70 percent African American that understands and lived a lot of these problems that guys are protesting about. So (the NFL) dropped the ball there, but we’ll see where it goes.”
What happens next?
Now the NFL goes into a new chapter of the anthem story, after it has overshadowed the game for two seasons. Perhaps some players will sit out, as journalist Shaun King said was being considered. Perhaps players will come up with a creative way to bring attention to their plight. It might just be that players who stay in the locker room will become the target of scorn from those offended by athletes trying to bring attention to causes like police brutality and racial inequality.
Whatever happens down the road, it’s clear that a significant portion of NFL players weren’t thrilled with the league’s solution to this ongoing saga.
“You’re disappointed but not surprised because, at the end of the day, the league is all about money, it’s a business,” Smith said. “But to try to silence guys when they’re trying to do the right thing for our country, I mean, I really don’t know what to say about it.”
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