In May, NFL team owners agreed on a new policy to fine teams next season if their players do not stand during the national anthem. The move took many by surprise and was seen as a victory for President Trump, who had spent more than a year publicly criticizing NFL players for kneeling, and the league for allowing them to kneel.
Now the NFL Players Association has filed an official grievance against the policy.
On Tuesday, the NFLPA filed a non-injury grievance on behalf of all players, and said in a statement, “This new policy, imposed by the NFL’s governing body without consultation with the NFLPA, is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on player rights.”
The face-off nearly guarantees that the next NFL season will be another one marred by political controversy.
Of course, the issue could get resolved before the season kicks off in September. The NFL and NFLPA have already agreed to begin “confidential discussions to find a solution to this issue instead of immediately proceeding with litigation.”
But those are strong words in the NFLPA statement: “infringes on player rights.” And the NFLPA is livid that it was not consulted in making the new policy. The players are not likely to be pleased with any form of the policy that punishes them for exercising their free speech, and the owners are not likely to kowtow by completely changing their policy shortly after deciding on it.
A number of players have already spoken out about the new policy and indicated they may not adhere to it. Philadelphia Eagles player Chris Long tweeted, “This is not patriotism.” And the acting owner of the New York Jets, Chris Johnson, has said he will happily pay the fines if his players choose to kneel.
On the other hand, Vice President Mike Pence immediately hailed the new policy by tweeting: “#Winning.” And an exclusive SurveyMonkey poll conducted for Yahoo Finance found that 54% of people approve of the new policy.
NFL primetime television ratings declined last season by 10% on average. Ratings declined the season before, too. It is unclear how much of the decline can be blamed on the kneeling protests—there are myriad factors disrupting live sports viewership—but the controversy certainly did not help. When the NFL suddenly issued a new policy on the matter in May, it took many by surprise because the kneeling had almost completely died down; critics remarked that the NFL should have just left it alone.
Now the new rule has stoked the flames further. It is hard to believe the protests will not continue in some shape or form next season.
Perhaps the greatest irony: President Trump is not happy with the new policy anyway. He has criticized it because it allows players the option to remain in the locker room during the playing of the anthem. He called it “worse” than the previous policy.