NFL Temporarily Halts Implementation Of Anthem Policy
The NFL on Thursday "halted implementation of its new national anthem policy under an agreement" with the NFLPA following news that the Dolphins were leaving open the "possibility that a player of theirs could be subject to a suspension" for protesting on the field, according to Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST. The agreement also "keeps the grievance filed by the NFLPA over the anthem policy ... from moving forward, at least temporarily." The new anthem policy "leaves it up to each team whether a player would be disciplined for a protest during the anthem." The previous policy included in its game operations manual "required players to be on the sideline for the anthem" and suggested players "stand for the anthem but did not require them to do so." That "presumably goes back into effect, pending a resolution by the league and the union in coming weeks." The AP on Thursday afternoon reported the Dolphins could suspend players for up to four games "without pay for conduct detrimental to the team in the event of protesting during the anthem." The current CBA outlines the "maximum penalty that a team can assess for conduct detrimental to the club is a four-game suspension without pay" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/20). ESPN.com's Dan Graziano cited sources as saying that the NFL and NFLPA had been "prepared to issue the standstill agreement Friday but moved up the announcement" because the Dolphins story broke (ESPN.com, 7/19).
THE PERILS OF BEING FIRST: In Ft. Lauderdale, Omar Kelly cited a source as saying that each NFL team is "required to create a policy before the opening of training camp." Because rookies reported to camp on Wednesday, the Dolphins were "one of the first to submit that policy to the NFL." The team did not create a "hard and firm stance on the team’s anthem policy, or punishments regarding players who violate it." A source said, "We will address this issue once the season starts. All options are still open" (South Florida SUN SENTINEL, 7/20). ESPN's Mike Golic Jr. said, "The Dolphins made clear that they made no decisions of how they will enforce that, if at all. But that doesn't stop the headline from being, 'The Dolphins Will Plan to Impose Four-Game Suspensions,' which is what carried most of the day" ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 7/20). In Miami, Adam Beasley writes the Dolphins "served as the NFL’s unwitting stress test for the league’s controversial new national anthem policy." Still, the "damage had been done, and the blowback was immediate." Many "criticized the team for what they perceived as a heavy-handed policy -- even though in truth the Dolphins were only codifying what the league had mandated" (MIAMI HERALD, 7/20). ESPN's Jeff Darlington said the NFL is "trying to put a little bit of the toothpaste back in the tube because they did put the Dolphins in a tough situation by making them file that paperwork and making them vulnerable to this type of criticism" ("Get Up!," ESPN, 7/20).
AVOIDING A PR DISASTER: ESPN.com's Darlington noted the other 31 NFL teams also needed to "file similar paperwork, and in the wake of Thursday's report about the Dolphins, the NFL was up against another PR mess." Darlington: "With teams about to report to camp, the focus would turn toward individual team filings to see how respective organizations would impose discipline on players protesting during the anthem" (ESPN.com, 7/19). He said the NFL is "mandating teams to file paperwork but then not exactly telling them what to expect out of the national anthem policy. We're in a very sticky situation" ("Get Up!," ESPN, 7/20). ESPN's Jason Fitz asked, "How did the NFL not see this coming? This was going to be a conversation as each team turned in their punishment -- however they chose to classify it -- and it will be a conversation into Week One of the season” ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 7/20). NBC Sports Bay Area's Ray Ratto said, "It's another bad look on something that the NFL hasn't gotten its head around from the start. They've misplayed this time and again" ("The Happy Hour," NBC Sports Bay Area, 7/19).
WHAT TO DO: ESPN's Mike Greenberg said, "This was a situation that required proactive behavior, and what we have seen is a never-ending series of reactions to things that have happened." He added, "At some point, what you have to say is, 'The time for worrying about public relations is behind us now. There's nothing we can do that someone isn't going to be very angry about so we have to sit down and decide what we think is right, make that decision, own it, live it and move on'" ("Get Up!," ESPN, 7/20). USA TODAY's Nancy Armour writes with the NFL "recognizing that it was on the verge of an epic PR crisis, maybe even a mutiny," it did "what it should have done long ago: Put all dictates about the national anthem on hold." The Dolphins effectively "did the league a favor by forcing it to rethink what had been a solution in search of a problem" (USA TODAY, 7/20).
POTENTIALLY A BIG MOMENT: SI.com's Conor Orr writes the five "turbulent hours" between news of the Dolphins' policy and the league halting the policy "might have changed the most politically charged and divisive decision in modern NFL history." It now seems like players "will have a place at the negotiating table this time." The optics of a team "suspending a player for a quarter of the season -- more than some players get for violating the NFL’s domestic violence policy -- were horrid," and this was going to be the "first of many, many stories just like it." This would have "eroded any chance the NFL had to save face with its players before the preseason opener in Canton on Aug. 2." The policy freeze provides NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a "second chance to do something he has failed to do time and time again throughout his tenure as commissioner: Enact a policy with broad support from both players and owners, while simultaneously removing the league from the long slog of an endless legal controversy." Standing up to President Trump would go "further toward bridging player-league relations than anything else Goodell has accomplished over his career." Orr: "Thursday brought up a question many had asked when the anthem policy was first announced in late May: How could they not see this coming from a mile away?" (SI.com, 7/20). YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel wrote of the new policy, "Everyone can agree this was one of the worst crisis management/public relations ideas in sports history; the NFL just asking to get beaten like a piñata" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/19).