The NFL has made a major policy decision to address the issue of players kneeling for the National Anthem, but was this the right move? The kneeling efforts began with Colin Kaepernick in 2016, and have since grown exponentially with additional NFL players taking a knee, as well as countless college and high school football players. Since the movement does not appear to be slowing down on its own, the NFL has decided to take a more aggressive step in favor of pleasing NFL fans who have voiced their concerns. Here’s the gist of the new policy:
The NFL has approved a national anthem policy that requires players to stand if they are on the field during the performance but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if they prefer…the policy subjects teams to a fine if a player or any other team personnel do not show respect for the anthem. That includes any attempt to sit or kneel, as dozens of players have done during the past two seasons. Those teams will also have the option to fine any team personnel, including players, for the infraction.
What happens next?
I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t speak to how this decision falls in line with 1st Amendment rights. Psychologically speaking, however, I do think it’s worth examining some of the important aspects, consequences, and implications we are likely to see with the new policy.
First, it was inevitable that the NFL respond in some fashion to the voices of fans who have not only verbalized their their concerns directed at players who kneel, but also threatened to boycott buying tickets and NFL merchandise. It was also of little surprise that the NFL try and come up with general rules/guideline uniformity that all teams could follow when it comes to kneeling, as we have previously witnessed varying responses from different teams. The NFL felt pressure fiscally, as well as politically, and decided to implement this new rule as a result.
Next, the issue of players receiving fines should they continue kneeling still reads vague — will the fines be a big hit to the wallet, or more like a slap on the wrist? Will fines escalate with respect to repeat offenders? And will these fine amounts be made available before the start of the upcoming season, or left to each team when it comes to how much they will fine players who break the rule? I would assume these questions will be worked out in greater detail in the months ahead.
The questions that intrigue me the most have to do with the implications relating to stifling players behaviors by prohibiting their freedom of expression — will there be deeper layers to this action that isn’t readily being seen? For example, will teams really follow through fining their star players who kneel? And if teams fine players, what overall effect will that have on team climate and culture – and eventually success of the team on the field? And what about players who go on to the field for the National Anthem, and rather than kneeling decide upon a new way to protest yet avoid the kneeling fine? For example, will players who put their head down and their fist in the air be subjected to penalties stemming from kneeling?
It’s difficult to imagine the new NFL rule penalizing players who kneel for the National Anthem will be the final chapter of this story, as these are volatile times and players have found kneeling to be an important way to bring attention to their concerns around social welfare and justice. At the same time, it’s equally difficult to imagine that after the PR nightmare the NFL experienced last year that the league wouldn’t attempt to try and implement some type of standardization when it comes to the National Anthem. Will these new changes right the ship, or only lead to greater future resistance?