Trump’s groundbreaking meeting with North Korea was canceled because of “hostile” behavior on their part. Trump explained that this missed opportunity “is a tremendous setback for North Korea.” In related news, the NFL announced their new national anthem policy which, believe it or not, they claim to have thought about carefully. They have decided that players are not allowed to express themselves or their views in any way that does not include standing for the entire national anthem. (They do get the choice to wait in the tunnel off the field.) This new policy is a disgrace to the NFL for a number of reasons, some of which I’ll discuss here.
The “compromise,” to use NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s word, ignores the supposed good-faith negotiating that took place last year, resulting in a multimillion dollar commitment by the NFL to support social justice groups. They explicitly stated that the negotiation was not in exchange for the players to stop protesting. And yet, here we are.
Goodell also stated that teams would be able to implement their own rules that were consistent with this new imposition. This decision could open the door to owners deciding to bench or suspend players because of their stance on the anthem. It could even potentially allow them to legally cut or blackball players for political reasons wholly separate from football. That a player’s job security is endangered not by their value but by their owner’s personal beliefs is as dangerous as it is un-American.
I’m not saying the NFL’s ownership and commissioner rule with a brutality on par with North Korea’s totalitarian government. What I am saying is that the values our country, and specifically the NFL, nominally holds run counter to this new policy. Pitting these values against the backdrop of North Korea illuminated the contrast. We admonish North Korea for phony patriotism, exemplified by forcing citizens to attend military parades or to cry for the death of a dictator. Forcing people to line up as if they were prisoners is not patriotism; it is oppression. Do those actions not seem similar to making players stand for the national anthem? If not in scale, at least in substance. Texans owner Bob McNair’s comment of being scared of “the inmates running the prison” comes into focus.
America is a better country than most. Being an NFL player, despite the serious health consequences, can create a better life for players than many millions, if not billions, of people around the world currently experience. I feel a little uncomfortable criticizing the NFL when human trafficking runs rampant in some parts of the world, and slavery still exists. Just because there are worse conditions, however, doesn’t make this new anthem rule right. Often for better and sometimes for worse, many Americans see our country as a global leader. Being not the worst shouldn’t be our goal. If the NFL is serious about representing American values, it should ditch the paternalism that denies freedom and represent the type of patriotism that encourages evaluation based on excellence, not opinion.
Contact Jack Golub at golubj ‘at’ stanford.edu.