As Mrs. Banks sung in Mary Poppins: "Though we adore men individually, We agree that as a group they're rather stupid!" This perfectly describes the NFL and its owners. It also describes the players.
Here we have a group of billionaires deciding if their millionaire employees should stand during the National Anthem, which is played at the start of every NFL game. That this argument even exists is infantile in the extreme. It's not about free speech, because that's a right the First Amendment guarantees to every citizen, that the government won't infringe. The NFL is not the government.
It's not about the flag, because only members of the U.S. military and other services subject to the UCMJ are under any threat of penalty for not honoring the flag.
It's not about people being oppressed, because (heaving sigh) the millionaire players of the NFL can't, in anyone's view, be oppressed by their billionaire employers.
That means everyone is wrong, despite their very valid feelings on the topic. No, it's not political to be required by your employer to respect the National Anthem when part of your job is to attend events where it's played.
It's also wrong to compare oppressive attacks on free speech on campus and at other workplaces to the NFL.
In one of the rare times where I'm convinced David French is wrong, he wrote in the New York Times.
This isn’t a “middle ground,” as the N.F.L. claims. It’s not a compromise. It’s corporate censorship backed up with a promise of corporate punishment. It’s every bit as oppressive as the campus or corporate attacks on expression that conservatives rightly decry.
He's missing the point. It's not about the flag (if it were, yes the censorship would be worse). It is, however, about respect.
Not for the flag, but for the fans. The paying customers.
It's legitimately free speech for Olympic athletes to raise their fists in a Black Power salute during the National Anthem. But it's obnoxious and insulting to boo another team's anthem when you're not the winner. That doesn't only disrespect their flag and anthem, it also disrespects the fans and the winners.
In the case of the NFL, players who kneel during the National Anthem disrespect the fans, who have the right to either sit, stand, kneel, be silent, or boo during the song's playing. But since we're in America and the fans paid their good green American dollars to be there at the stadium for the game, or to watch it on television, the players need to show respect for those fans.
And the owners need to show respect for those fans. What the owners did last week was reprehensible. They solved nothing. There will still be kneelers, and there will be teams, parts of teams, individuals, and squads, who notably take themselves off the field for the anthem, which implies kneeling. There will be those who stand proudly on the field. There will be those who kneel on the field and incur fines on their team.
There will be team owners who pay the fines. And some who fine the players.
The owners got together and collectively displayed a shocking level of stupidity. Instead of putting Kneelgate behind them and focusing on football, they guaranteed another year of protests, boycotts, media circuses and disrespect of fans.
If they all had any respect for the fans, they'd make a consistent policy: teams stay off the field during the anthem, or teams all must stand during the anthem. Pick one. Either one is fine. Then what happens when a player decides to do something different? That's really the issue here. I say a millionaire player should do what the billionaire owners say, or not play. Don't fine them, suspend them. If suspension is okay for a deflated football (which had zero influence on the outcome of a lopsided game), then it's okay for flouting league rules on decorum.
There are probably 612,396 reasons a fan can get kicked out of an NFL game. Everything from throwing your beer, to yelling profanities, to jumping on the field will get you ejected, and your $200 ticket will be for naught. But the fans are the least respected part of the game that exists solely for their entertainment. If the NFL had any respect for those who are taken for granted and treated as the teats of so many cash cows, they'd stop players from making their games into political events.
If the NFL really cared about the fans, they'd suspend players who didn't honor the fans, and that means keeping teams off the field for the anthem, or making them stand. What the owners did is neither; they engaged in mealy-mouthed idiocy.
Now they all deserve what they will certainly get.