National Anthem dispute: NFL policy decision finally gets it right

Image for post
Image for post

WASHINGTON. Last week, the National Football League announced a new policy governing the players’ conduct during the performance of the National Anthem before each NFL game. While the football players appear to oppose the new rule, it looks like the new NFL policy decision finally got it right.

Howard Bryant says the players are not happy.

Howard Bryant, author of The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism, the players may show their discontent prior to the start of next season. Says Bryant,

“Well I think they’ve taken the position that the NFL has decided to fully engage with this culture war initiated by the president. When [President Trump] first attacked the NFL players in September, one of the questions of the book that I was asking was ‘Who gets to be the patriot?’ “

To deal with this issue, the NFL proposed a policy that received near-unanimous support from the owners. However, two owners did abstain from voting. The new policy simply states that every player on the field must stand for the playing of the National Anthem.

Those players choosing not to stand can simply voice their discontent by staying off the field and in the locker room during the National Anthem. This NFL policy decision seems like a reasonable compromise.

President Trump likes NFL policy decision.

“Well, I think that’s good,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News. “I don’t think people should be staying in locker rooms, but still I think it’s good. You have to stand, proudly, for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”

Bryant responded,

“I think that this has really reignited some really bad blood between the players and the owners.”

The players thought the league would go along with their demand that the NFL owners spend $90 million toward a partnership to fight social injustice. The players don’t appear to understand reality. But new NFL policy decision on player conduct during the National Anthem indicates that the owners do.

Football is a form of entertainment that tens of thousands of people pay hundreds of dollars every week to watch the games in billion dollar stadiums. Millions more fans watch football on TV every Sunday. There are even games played on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. For NFL fans, this is their time away from politics.

To the owners, this is a business.

While some owners get some enjoyment from owning an NFL team, the billions they invest are designed to return a profit. The profit must be as good or better than alternative investments.

Owners recognize that to earn a maximum profit they must hire the right players and coaches. They must also pay their employees a salary that reflects the value of their output. That’s why players earn millions of dollars annually to simply prepare for and play a game.

Owners recognize that making poor personnel decisions can result in the team losing most games, which reduces their revenue and profit.

Owners believe that fans are not interested in political statements during football games. In fact, as we saw quite clearly during the NFL’s previous season, it is just the opposite. For three hours on any Sunday, an NFL fan expects the freedom to forget about all the frantic political discourse in the country today and simply enjoy the game. The new NFL policy decision simply reflects this.

Owners must give fans exactly what they want.

Players argue that they have a right to free speech and are therefore entitled to make a social statement by kneeling during the National Anthem. The players are wrong this time.

An employer has a right to give very specific instructions and rules to their employees during the time they are employed. The employees are required to follow the rules. This happens in virtually every job.

It happens for the football players, too. During the game, management tells the players what to wear, how to dress, where to stand, where to sit and what to say or not say during the game. Players must wear the uniform assigned to them. They must go on the field and perform very specific tasks during each play.

If a player fails to do his assignment adequately, he is required to get off of the field and sit or stand near the bench. During the huddle, the player must remain quiet while the quarterback explains the next play. There is no free speech on the field.

There are limits to free speech.

A person ill-advised to yell “Fire!” in a crowded room. Individuals cannot just yell foul language in public whenever they feel like it. At times, people must refrain from speakings. In a courtroom, the judge could have a person removed from the court if he or she speaks out of turn.

During a game, the players must follow the rules set by the owners or they simply will not play. One rule is to stand and honor the flag, regardless of a player’s personal position on any social issue. During the game, employers require this conduct.

The NFL reached a good compromise position on a confusing, alienating issue. All players on the field must stand for the National Anthem. Period. As a compromise gesture toward the players, the owners will allow those disagreeing with the policy to to remain off the field when the anthem is played.

This is a reasonable solution that protects the owners’ investment, while allowing the players a degree of personal expression. It seems that everyone wins.

Michael Busler, Ph.D. is a public policy analyst and a Professor of Finance at Stockton University where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Finance and Economics. He has written Op-ed columns in major newspapers for more than 35 years. @Mbusler

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store