The NFL owners needed to find a way to extricate themselves from the lingering national athem controversy and they handled it the only way they could.
They cut it down the middle.
We’ll see if it satisfies either side in a debate that cut deeply into public confidence in the league and – in particular – the Ravens, who suffered a serious fan backlash after many members of the team kneeled during the anthem in London.
The league had to walk a fine line here, protecting the rights of players to act against societal injustice while mollifying fans who felt the protests were disrespectful to our active soldiers and veterans. The owners straddled that line by changing the rule that requires players to be on the field for the anthem. It requires players on the field to stand respectfully or the team could be fined and the players could face discipline from their teams.
Players who do not want to stand for the anthem can remain in the locker room until it is over.
That seems like a reasonable compromise, but we’re not talking a about a routine collective bargaining issue here. Players who have knelt in the past – most notably Colin Kaepernick – obviously feel very passionate about their right to protest and the same goes for the angry fans who have chosen to interpret that protest from their own perspective.
It would be easy to be cynical here and call this a self-serving attempt to find some middle ground and keep everybody happy, but the NFL really didn’t have a better option here. It’s a business that lives off the talent of the players and the interest of the fans. This won’t fully satisfy any side in this controversy, but it probably will get the desired result and keep it out of the spotlight.
Become a subscriber today to support sports commentary like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.