Many fans are debating today whether to watch football in a long-standing American tradition (including in my house) on Thanksgiving or join the growing boycott of the National Football League over the continued national anthem protests. Viewership and stadium attendance continues to drop around the country. Recently we discussed how the NAACP proposed simply dropping the national anthem as a way to resolve the controversy — a position that some of us strongly objected to. Now the NFL is proposing an equally bizarre solution: if you cannot get rid of the anthem, get rid of the players. The NFL is working on a proposal to keep players in the locker room for the national anthem. No players, no protest. It is an idea that President Donald Trump rejected for good reason.
Roger Goodell and the NFL owners have repeatedly shown that they have no principled position on either side of the debate. The owners have given every indication that they could care less about the anthem, the protests, or anything other than the bottom line. That is no change in their standard approach to all things football. While they love to parade veterans before games, they are only concerned that the protests are costing them money. Neither the principles involved on either side or the fans calculate prominently in their decisionmaking.
The controversy over the anthem is occurring at the same time of the squabble over Goodell’s contract. Goodell is not simply viewed as the most anti-fan commissioner in the history of the league but he is without question the most unpopular commissioner. However, the owners want to renew his contract (he is demanding $50 million a year plus the lifetime use of a private plane from the NFL). A recent poll shows that 60 percent of fans object to Goodell’s handling of the controversy.
The reason is that the owners could truly care less about how the fans are treated or how they view Goodell. Goodell is a useful shill for the owners. They want to pursue policies to bilk fans, but they are able to direct the growing fan outrage at Goodell. The problem is that fans are beginning to seriously question their interest in the game when balanced against their growing hatred for the NFL. Roughly 30 percent of fans now say that they are watching less football due to the anthem protest. That is almost one out of three fans who have been alienated by the handling of the controversy.
In light of this history, it is little surprise that the owner would prefer to simply keep the players in their locker rooms to avoid the issue — and making any decision on principle.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the owners may refer to a prior policy in just keeping the players inside. Many fans, including myself, value fans and players alike standing in respect of the flag and the anthem. I have previously said that I do not agree with the protests during the anthem. It has nothing to do with the merits of the underlying concerns over criminal justice in America. Rather, I view the anthem as the demonstration of our collective commitment to the Constitution and the values that it represents. We have not always lived up to those values but the anthem is to reaffirm both those values and honor all citizens (veteran and non-veterans alike) who have fought to make them a reality.
It is a bit late to expect the NFL owners (who truly include some of the most repellant individuals alive) to stand on principle, but at least show a modicum of guts. Either stand with the players or the anthem, but do not try to avoid any decision by hiding the players or canceling the anthem. It is also unfair to most players. Most players and the vast majority of fans want to observe the national anthem at the start of games (like so many other sports). Some 77 percent of fans believe that players should stand for the anthem or not play.
Fortunately, we will be holding our own football game today with the Turley Turkey Bowl, which has now been running for roughly 50 years. We will be joining by a large number of our friends and neighbors. While the game may not have as many all-star performances, the management and the players and the fans will be celebrating the day (and what it represents) together.