Okay. Enough already with this NFL National Anthem thing. It has dragged on far too long. And despite the well-intentioned efforts of the NFL commissioners, NFL owners, President Trump, and the TV networks, a satisfying solution has yet to emerge. Until now. I have this thing figured out. And I suggest – humbly of course – that the players have it wrong. And the president has it wrong. And the owners and network brass have it wrong. But I’ve come to rescue the NFL from itself. I have the answer.
First, let’s review a few of the failed solutions to the problem.
1. The players
NFL players, by a huge majority, continue to stand for the National Anthem. But the NFL players union balks at any efforts by league officials to mandate this. And the idea of protesters staying in the locker room doesn’t work for them. They want free expression, out in the open. So the players want the right to take a knee during the anthem – in full view of the millions of Americans tuned in to watch the game. The problem with this is obvious. They work for their employers. And staging any kind of protest at work is not allowed in other workplaces. However, to deny them this first amendment expression is only serving to drag this out. This could be before the courts – and therefore before the fans – for years.
2. The owners
The NFL owners are all over the board on this one. Jerry Jones has demanded that the Dallas Cowboys all stand for the Anthem. And his players have obliged. But other owners have allowed for players to do what they want. So the owners have no unified position.
3. The commissioner
Roger Goodell came out with a new policy in May. It said that players cannot kneel, but can still protest by staying back in the locker room until after the Anthem. This fell flat with the players union. So Goodell did what he always does. To use an NFL phrase, he punted.
4. The networks
Both NBC and CBS have announced their solution. They simply won’t show the National Anthem on TV before the games. They reason, the networks don’t televise the National Anthem for other events, such as major awards shows or Major League Baseball. The problem with this solution is obvious – this is the NFL, where they have always televised the National Anthem. This is the chicken way out.
5. Sports writers
A new solution has been offered by major sports commentators. Let each team decide for itself. In cities where patriotism is a big deal, let the owners demand that their players stand for the Anthem. In other places, they don’t have to. But this is no answer, as this would still lead to unending opposition from the players union.
6. My solution – the only good one
That leaves us with my solution – the only one that will work. This is so obvious that I am shocked I have not heard it suggested anywhere else. If I thought of this, surely someone else has. But since the geniuses that run the NFL, the networks, the players union, and the networks have yet to figure this out, I’m happy to help. Here you go. I offer a two-step plan.
Step 1 – Let the players do whatever they want. To order the players to stand for the Anthem will never stand up in court. The expression of the first amendment will trump all else. So any effort to disallow players the right to protest will only shine a brighter light on the protest most of us wish would go away.
Step 2 – Have the networks continue to televise the National Anthem, but do not show any of the players! The purpose of the National Anthem is to put a focus – for about four minutes – on our great country and its flag – not the players on the sideline. What is the point of watching players stand there (or in some cases, kneel), anyway? Do we really need to know if Tom Brady knows all the words to the song or if a backup running back for the New York Jets does not want to honor our flag? If we want the players to just play ball, then we need to take the spotlight off of them for the four minutes that we say we want to honor the flag.
What will happen if the NFL gets smart and follows my plan? Two things.
First, the issue will fade into the background. They need to quit talking about it. And by not showing the Anthem at all (the networks’ plan, except for Fox), that will just stoke the flames even more. But if the networks show the anthem and the announcers shut up about which player is kneeling, staying in the locker room, or doing something stupid on the sideline, the issue will fade away.
Second, democracy will take over. For teams and players who still kneel, fans will continue to turn against them. It is the right for the players to kneel. And it is the right for the networks to not show it. And it is the right of the fans to boo them and quit buying their jerseys.
I will toss in another suggestion for free. This one came from Tony Dungy. The Hall-of-Fame coach has suggested that at the start of each head coach’s weekly press conference, he should set aside ten minutes for his players – who want to push their agenda – to take a few minutes to address their opinions on civil rights, etc. Give them a voice. Dungy reasons, this would actually allow the players to say what they stand for, rather than stage a protest nobody understands.
So there you have it. The solution is so simple. It’s as obvious as the star on the Cowboys’ helmets. Let the players do what they want, but don’t make us watch it. Let the focus of the National Anthem be the American flag – period. Quit talking about what the players are doing during the Anthem. This would satisfy the players union (legally, at least), avoid any more lawsuits, and allow the millions of fans who simply tune in to watch football to have their game back – just like it always was.