Lurie Addresses Anthem Policy
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The NFL created a firestorm earlier Wednesday by implementing a new policy that prevents players from protesting during the national anthem.
The league's owners unanimously [with one abstention from San Francisco's Jed York] approved a new policy that requires players to stand if they are on the field during the performance. It does allow the option to remain in the locker room if a player would prefer, however.
The new policy will subject teams to a fine if a player or any other team personnel do not show "respect" for the anthem, an almost typically vague term from a league that often shoots itself in the foot with poor legislation.
That would include sitting or kneeling but did not address raising a fist as the Eagles' Malcolm Jenkins used to do to protest racial inequality or interlocking arms as many players and even executives have done in the past.
The clubs themselves will also have an option to fine any team personnel for an infraction.
"We want people to be respectful of the national anthem," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "We want people to stand -- that's all personnel -- and make sure they treat this moment in a respectful fashion. That's something we think we owe. [But] we were also very sensitive to give players choices."
The policy will now be part of the NFL's game operations manual and is not subject to collective bargaining, something that upset the NFL Players Association which quickly promised to "challenge any aspect" of the rule that is inconsistent with the current CBA.
"History has taught us that both patriotism and protest are like water; if the force is strong enough it cannot be suppressed. Today, the CEO's of the NFL created a rule that people who hate autocracies should reject," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith wrote on Twitter.
"Management has chosen to quash the same freedom of speech that protects someone who wants to salute the flag in an effort to prevent someone who does not wish to do so," Smith continued in another Tweet. The sad irony of this rule is that anyone who wants to express their patriotism is subject to the whim of a person who calls himself an "Owner." I know that not all of the NFL CEO's are for this and I know that true American patriots are not cheering today."
The Eagles' Malcolm Jenkins, perhaps the league's most prominent social activist and certainly most accomplished, was against the policy.
"What NFL owners did today was thwart the players' constitutional rights to express themselves and use our platform to draw attention to social injustices like racial inequality in our country," Jenkins wrote. "Everyone loses when voices get stifled."
Jenkins also insisted the decision will not deter him from advocating change in the criminal justice and legal sysyems for people of color, the issue he is most passionate about.
"While I disagree with this decision, I will not let it silence me or stop me from fighting," he insisted. "The national conversation around race in America that NFL players forced over the past two years will persist as we continue to use our voices, our time and our money to create a more fair and just criminal justice system, end police brutality and foster better educational opportunities for communities of color and those struggling in this country.
"For me, this has never been about taking a knee, raising a fist or anyone's patriotism but doing what we can to affect real change for real people."
Jenkins' teammate Chris Long, who stood alongside Jenkins during the pregame protests, also said he will “continue to be committed to affecting change.”
“This is fear of a diminished bottom line,” Long wrote on social media. “It’s also fear of a president turning his base against a corporation. This is not patriotism. Don’t get it confused. These owners don’t love America more than the players demonstrating and taking real action to improve it. It also lets you, the fan, know where our league stands."
One of the more "liberal" owners in the NFL, the Eagles' Jeffrey Lurie, finally addressed the controversy late Wednesday night although he avoided the more controversial aspects of the decision.
“I have always believed it is the responsibility of sports teams to be very proactive in our communities," Lurie said in a statement. "In this great country of ours, there are so many people who are hurting and marginalized, which is why I am proud of our players for continuously working to influence positive change.
"Their words and actions have demonstrated not only that they have a great deal of respect for our country, but also that they are committed to finding productive ways to fight social injustice, poverty and other societal issues that are important to all of us. We must continue to work together in creative and dynamic ways to make our communities stronger and better with equal opportunities for all.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Want more NFL? Check out John's piece on why the comparison between Jared Goff and Mitchell Trubisky needs a little more nuance at GetMoreSports.com.