We’re getting close to the time of year when I usually start to anticipate football. The draft is over, training camps are just a couple of months away, and the NHL and NBA postseasons are soon to conclude, leaving only mid-season baseball to fill my sports appetite.
Here in North Texas, that means following the generally mediocre Texas Rangers. So, I should be getting pretty stoked about seeing whether the 2018 Dallas Cowboys resemble the middling squad of a year ago or the 13-win phenomenon of the year before.
But that murmur of anticipation is doused at least momentarily by news of a ridiculous burst of NFL rules meant to address the national anthem protests that nearly destroyed my interest last year. As the 2017 season wound down, anthem protests had been reduced to a sour memory. I dreamed that perhaps players had gotten that ugliness out of their systems, and we might be spared such a spectacle this year.
But now come the ham-handed NFL guidelines that only serve to stir the foul pot in new ways.
The good news: players on the sideline will be required to stand, with teams and individuals facing fines if they engage in the kneeling that repelled millions of fans last year.
The absurd news: teams may grant players the latitude to remain in the locker room if they wish, to avoid the burden of momentary respect for the nation that has afforded them unimaginable wealth.
This means some teams will be on the sideline showing proper deference to a patriotic ritual, and some will not. Imagine the pre-game awkwardness if one team is there and one is not. Better yet, imagine the fracturing tension many teams will face if some percentage of the squad wishes to honor America while others cannot be bothered. That should be great for team chemistry.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who somehow still has that job, shared some of his motivations at a Wednesday news conference. "It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic,” he said. “This is not and was never the case."
“Thousands?” There are not even two thousand players on active rosters on any given week. The impression we did get, and it was accurate, was that some players were willing to engage in active displays of derision toward the flag in order to draw attention to their social agenda.
Then fans burned jerseys of players they had loved for years. Players tried, and miserably failed, to argue that their refusal to honor the nation during the anthem “was not about America or the flag.”
How stupid did they think we were? Whether driven by the issue of racial disparities in policing or any other societal or political urge, a decision to shun a communal patriotic exercise is most certainly about America and the flag. And as one who is fond of both, I spent many Sundays finding better things to do than watching millionaires who had insulted us so brazenly.
So the NFL thinks they have fixed the problem by creating a locker room safe space for players who simply cannot be brought to show a sliver of consideration for our nation, our military, and everyone for whom the national anthem is a glorious moment of unity. While we will not see their self-absorption on active display on the sidelines, the haters will make their gripes known by their absence. Fans are likely to take notes, as well they should.
For the millionth time, any player with passionate views on any issue is welcome to share them on his own time. Our social media-crazed country will surely pay attention, weighing in to agree or disagree with the views expressed.
The anthem spectacle had a solution last year, and it is the same this year: the league should require every team to require every player to stand, period. Between games, those players wishing to vent on any topic may do so at will. If the team permits it, players may even gripe about the requirement to respect the anthem.
The league runs this show. The teams employ the players, it’s time for bosses to act like bosses, and for the employees to realize that the anthem tradition is not their soapbox moment for protest.
The NFL clearly has no intention of enforcing such clarity, so get ready for another season of fan discontent, NFL posturing and player narcissism.