This isn’t about patriotism. It’s not about respect for the flag or our military, our domestic protectors, or those lost in the line of duty.
This is about control. This is about the small, uber-rich, and almost entirely white owners of professional football franchises reminding their players, nearly 70 percent of whom are black, to stay in line. This is about appeasing the MAGA types—led by the president himself—who have threatened to boycott the league, about stemming the tiny percentage of revenue that was lost since Colin Kaepernick began his protest, sparking league-wide kneelings in kind. This is about black players costing their white owners money.
Because the National Football League abides by only one allegiance: the American dollar. Beyond that, every thing, every idea, and every person can easily be bought, sold, or traded.
The reality that the America we know would not exist without black Americans, as our empire was literally built on the backs of their ancestors, echoes the landscape of today’s National Football League.
Scores of black players, working on contracts whose frameworks are widely regarded as the worst in major sports, providing unimaginable sums of money for their owners, knowing that at any time they can be sold, or worse, released at the whim of the team, have been firmly and without question told that their place in this league will not come with the benefit of free and individual expression.
The NFL is a stodgy monolith, long known for its suffocation of individual personality for the sake of protecting the shield. Uniform rules are unreasonably stringent, personal conduct policies long and byzantine (unless, of course, you can produce on the field or from the sidelines—at which point, you should have no problem finding a job), and their commercial guidelines amongst the most hardline.
Thus, Wednesday’s announcement of a unanimously approved policy that states that, if on the field, all players must stand for the National Anthem should come as little surprise. Protecting itself from a potential civil rights issue, the league also announced that players may choose to stay in the locker room during the pregame ceremony. Which, no doubt, scores of them will choose to do come September.
Both another act in the NFL’s ongoing display of pseudo-patriotism and a thinly veiled attempt to keep revenue flowing and stabilize shaky television numbers, this new policy has been bandied about by team owners and executives since the now-unemployed Kaepernick began his protest in 2016 and was continued by hundreds of NFL players the following season.
For the uninitiated, the NFL works for the team owners, not the other way around. The National Football League is merely the governing body, the enforcing, cohesive nebula acting on behalf of the thirty-two teams that comprise its ranks. It is the owners who sit on the competition committee, who decide on the personal conduct policies and, ultimately, the men who decided that their players, their property, need to stand for the playing of our National
This endeavor is not one of patriotism, forced or otherwise. This is another method the National Football League is employing to make sure its players—especially its black players—stand up, shut up, and know their place.