The NFL has no rule requiring players to stand for the national anthem. As a result, the NFL can do nothing to discipline players who chose not to stand.
On Monday, Commissioner Roger Goodell faced questions about the protests during a fan forum organized by the Cardinals.
“We have to understand there are people with different viewpoints,” Goodell said, via Mike Jurecki of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “The national anthem is a special moment to me. It’s a point of pride. That is a really important moment. But we also have to understand the other side. People do have rights and we want to respect those.”
The protests began a year ago, due primarily to former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick‘s concern regarding multiple incidents of police brutality against African-Americans and people of color. Early on, Kaepernick made compelling and persuasive remarks regarding the training and educational requirements for police officers, comparing them to the more stringent mandates of cosmetology licensing. Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, opting to sit for the anthem in the aftermath of the horrific and shameful incidents in Charlottesville, Virginia, spoke in much broader terms about his concerns regarding segregation, riots, and oppression.
Whatever the reasons given for the protest, no one has yet to declare that the protests are intended to reflect anti-American, anti-military, or anti-police sentiments. As the events of the past two days have demonstrated, our nation has a shameful past on matters of race and a stunningly checkered present. Football players and other athletes are choosing that moment before a game not to protest what is good about America, but to bring attention to things that aren’t, and that could be and should be improved.
Instead of immediately branding these men as something they’re not, the more prudent approach is to understand why they’re using that platform to give voice to causes that otherwise seem to be ignored or glossed over, possibly because they make people who aren’t the subject of segregation, riots, and oppression uncomfortable.
Whatever the purpose for protesting during the anthem, the players have a right to do it, as Goodell has acknowledged. Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that some NFL teams seem to believe they have a right to consider the exercise of those rights as the kind of “distraction” and/or “baggage” that will influence not employing a player whose skills aren’t head and shoulders above his peers. Thus, until players like Colin Kaepernick can protest without worrying that doing so may be the difference between being employed and not employed, Goodell’s assurance “[p]eople do have rights and we want to respect those” will be somewhat hollow and incomplete.