Column: Policy can’t make anthem controversy, protesters disappear for NFL, Miami Dolphins

Dolphins players kneel during the national anthem before a game against the Saints in London in 2017. (Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

The NFL unanimously voted to approve a national anthem policy that didn’t involve a vote and wasn’t unanimous.

If anyone wondered how this new policy would fly in the 2018 season, they’re not wondering now. The season doesn’t begin for more than three months, yet this policy and the rush to implement it didn’t pass the smell test for 24 hours.

Right away, players who have sparked this national conversation showed they would not be silenced or told to go to their room, even as team owners stomped their feet, wagged a finger and ordered them to do just that.

“It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic,” the league wrote in announcing the policy. “This is not and was never the case.”

(So this isn’t about patriotism.)

“This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem,” the league wrote in the very next sentence of its press release.

(So this is about patriotism?)

Actually, it’s not. Let’s be honest here. This is, always has been and always will be about the multibillion industry that is the NFL, which is why the league wants everyone who is on the field to stand at attention during the anthem and anyone who wants to protest social injustice to be nowhere in sight, preferably in the locker room.

Fans hold up Stand Up signs for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as he kneels during the national anthem at Hard Rock Stadium on Nov. 27, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took to the podium to declare that the policy was agreed upon by all 32 owners. “Unanimous,” he said. Too bad Jed York, owner of the San Francisco 49ers, said he abstained. Too bad Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis did, too. And too bad they never actually voted, but “knew” how everyone would vote, so they just trudged onward, ESPN reported.

One can only hope Goodell “knew” how Dolphins owner Stephen Ross would vote.

If this doesn’t sound like democracy in action, put yourself in the place of one of the protesting players, or the NFL Players Association, which was left out in the cold in the process and is investigating possible recourse. The first time Goodell fines a player for violating the policy, the NFLPA will be standing up, all right.

Thursday, a couple of Dolphins players were asked about the policy but declined to comment. Money talks — or in this case, it doesn’t talk. So leave it to Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr to show why he’s so missed as TNT analyst.

“It’s just typical of the NFL,” Kerr said. “They’re just playing to their fanbase. Basically just trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people. It’s idiotic. But that’s how the NFL has conducted their business. I’m proud to be in a league that understands patriotism in America is about free speech and peacefully protesting.”

Rather than put the issue to bed, the NFL rekindled the controversy, with arguments on either side understandable to varying degrees. One that fails: “What if I did that at my job?” The last time you arrived at the office and before dashing to the coffee maker heard “The Star-Spangled Banner” was … ? The last time TV cameras zeroed in on your cubicle was … ? Pro sports is a different animal, one that can bring communities together or, in this case, split them apart.

But if you’re going to embrace an athlete, such as the Dolphins’ Kenny Stills, when he stands up on behalf of children virtually every day off he gets, perhaps you can respect his decision to kneel — not to protest symbols of this country, but what ails it. What he thinks could make it better.

President Donald Trump, who once called protesting players SOBs, applauded the policy, suggesting on Fox News that those who don’t stand shouldn’t be in the NFL and “maybe” shouldn’t be in the country.

Again, democracy?

I stand every time I hear the anthem in the pressbox and can’t fathom doing anything else. The most chilling moment I’ve experienced in Hard Rock Stadium was standing by the Dolphins’ bench before the first game back after Sept. 11, 2001, and hearing the entire stadium singing along.

But in such divisive times, I’m not so blinded by the song and the flag that I can’t understand why the players are doing what they’re doing. And this isn’t quite the black-white issue some make it out to be.

Among those ripping the new policy is Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long. He’s white. Son of Hall of Famer Howie Long. And to those who say if players feel this strongly about improving their communities they should actually do something, I say Chris Long played the entire 2017 season without taking a single paycheck. He donated it all to education.


Controversy over? Just wait until the fall, when the first player standing at attention raises a fist, sports a Jim McMahon-like headband with a political statement or gets an “#ImWithKap” tattoo.


Just wait until the fall, when the first player standing at attention raises a fist — what then, Mr. Commissioner? Wait to see what happens if any team is bold enough to remain en masse in its locker room. What then, Mr. Commissioner? What if players wear Jim McMahon-like headbands with statements etched on them, or get an “#ImWithKap” tattoo for Colin Kaepernick, who launched this debate?

What if an owner, perhaps Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, takes the league up on the option to add more teeth to the policy by making it difficult or impossible for players to be away from the field when the anthem starts?

So no, this controversy didn’t end in an Atlanta meeting room.

It won’t end in September.

It may not end, ever.

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