NFL Considering Making Standing For Anthem Required; Owners To Discuss Policy At Meeting
The NFL is considering "requiring all of its personnel to stand for the national anthem, a move that could defuse a dispute" with President Trump but "create a showdown with players over their right to protest," according to Futterman & Beaton of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The decision to consider a change comes after "weeks of persistent criticism" from Trump about players protesting during the anthem. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday in a memo said the controversy is "threatening to erode the unifying power of our game." He added that the league "believes that all players should stand for the anthem." The league will "suggest other ways it could support social-justice issues that players want to champion." Futterman & Beaton note the decision to consider an adjustment "reflects the mounting concern among owners that the controversy could have long-term financial implications" for the league. The NFL game operations manual says "players 'should' stand during the national anthem." It does not state they "'must' stand, even though that word is used in numerous instances in the manual regarding player behavior during games." Team owners will meet next week in N.Y., and NFL Exec VP/Communications Joe Lockhart said, "I fully expect this to be front and center on the agenda" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/11). NFL.com's Judy Battista said, "They want to get away from the anthem protest, that is what is clear. They do not want players kneeling or sitting during the national anthem. ... They are obviously concerned these ongoing protests are impacting the business of the league” (“Inside the NFL,” Showtime, 10/10).
ALL ABOUT THE BOTTOM LINE: CBSSPORTS.com's Kevin Skiver wrote the owners meeting "will be telling." If the NFL "implements a rule change regarding the anthem, the fallout would be huge." That means it "makes sense that the owners want to find a way to stop them" (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/10). ESPN's Louis Riddick said, “It has moved so far away from what the original message was that now it's become a business issue." Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones has threatened to bench players who disrespect the flag, and Riddick said Jones “does not want to drive away people who are coming into his stadium” and spending money. Riddick: "He feels as though the longer this remains at the front of the conversation, he’s putting that at risk, and he doesn't want that” ("OTL," ESPN, 10/10). NBC Sports Bay Area’s Kelli Johnson said Goodell’s memo is "all about money." Johnson: "The league is getting hurt by fans ... selling their tickets and not showing up. Ratings are down. This is a reaction not about what’s right and wrong, it is simply about the NFL losing money now” (“The Happy Hour,” NBCS Bay Area, 10/10). ESPN's Adam Schefter noted owners "recognize the threat that this posed to their business." He said, "As soon as sponsors begin to pull out -- and that hasn't happened yet -- then the NFL knows it's got a major problem on its hand" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 10/10). ESPN's Dan Le Batard said, “Once the president gets involved with all of this and keeps making a mess week to week, you have to meet with your players -- even though they don’t trust you -- and figure out how to solve this” (“Highly Questionable,” ESPN, 10/10).
MORE OWNERS LIKE JERRY? ESPN's Darren Woodson said there likely will be more owners who "get involved with their players in the locker room and start telling them, like Jerry Jones, exactly what the bottom line is" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 10/10). ESPN's Domonique Foxworth said, "I’d be very proud and impressed if some owners were willing to stand up and stand between the president pushing the NFL in the direction that he wants to go in and using our game and our league as a political football for his own personal gain” ("OTL," ESPN, 10/10).
PLAYERS WANT SOME INPUT: Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins, who has raised a fist while the anthem has been played during every game this season, said the players and the NFLPA "would definitely want to have some input" in whether the league should enact an anthem policy (PHILADELPHIA INQURIER, 10/11). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote a policy change "could spark a legal battle with the union over whether that change can be made without submitting the issue" to collective bargaining (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 10/10). But ESPN's Bob Ley said of the owners, "They’ll probably change it and probably just inform the union this has happened." ESPN's Tim Hasselbeck: “I would expect that's what they would do, that’s their best course of action" ("OTL," ESPN, 10/10). FS1's Jason Whitlock: "This is the appropriate step for the NFL. You can't take the time to explain this to everybody. Sometimes you just got to make rules and move on" ("Speak For Yourself," FS1, 10/10).
FLIPPING THE SWITCH: In N.Y., Ken Belson writes the NFL was "one big family two weeks ago," when Goodell and many team owners "locked arms, in many cases literally, in defiance and unity" after Trump's initial comments about firing protesting players. However, that "unanimity has all but vanished," as a "growing pool of owners is trying to defuse the politically charged issue, even if it means confronting the players the owners previously sympathized with." The league "might find resistance from players for any new directive on the anthem, setting the course for more public tension." Goodell's memo was sent two days after Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones said in "no uncertain terms that he would bench any players who 'disrespect the flag.'" Belson: "This about-face should not be shocking." Owners "want to make money," and anything that draws attention from the game "could put the television networks that broadcast the games and the league's corporate sponsors in an awkward spot." However, the owners "also want to avoid a showdown with the players' union, and even some of their best players" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/11). ESPN's Ley said, "In just a few short weeks, we've gone from owners linking arms on the field with their players to the specter of an owner saying if you kneel, there will be repercussions” ("OTL," ESPN, 10/10).