It’s official: The NFL’s new national anthem policy did not make things better. It made things worse.
When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the league’s new anthem policy, he hoped to placate those on the right, who have insisted that players should stand, while not alienating those on the left by allowing players to remain in the locker room if they didn’t want to stand on the field while the anthem played. But Goodell took immediate criticism from the left for seeming to turn his back on players who wanted to make a political statement.
And as for placating those on the right, any illusions about that were destroyed this morning by Representative Pete King, a Republican from New York, who took to Twitter to blast Jets CEO Christopher Johnson, who said that he wouldn’t support any discipline for any Jets players who chose not to stand for the anthem.
“Disgraceful that Jets owner will pay fines for players who kneel for National Anthem,” King wrote. “Encouraging a movement premised on lies vs. police. Would he support all player protests? Would he pay fines of players giving Nazi salutes or spew racism? It’s time to say goodbye to Jets!”
Rep. Pete King (@RepPeteKing) May 26, 2018
By invoking “Nazi salutes,” King is using incendiary language that is sure to enflame the situation just as the NFL was hoping to find a way to prevent it from dominating the headlines. King is also showing that some on the right will put other alliances aside to focus on this issue: After all, Johnson is only running the Jets right now because his brother, Jets owner Woody Johnson, is serving as President Trump’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. Woody Johnson is a Republican who has given millions of dollars to Republican campaigns, and he would obviously prefer not to see his football team associated with “Nazi salutes” in a tweet from a Republican Congressman. But King went there.
King’s tweet may be the strongest sign yet that the NFL’s anthem problem isn’t going anywhere. Partisan fighting over the issue will continue all summer, and the media will monitor which players stay in the locker room for the anthem when the season starts. Any players who choose to stay in the locker room will be labeled “sons of bitches” by President Trump. That will surely result in a backlash that sees other players stay in the locker room to show solidarity with their teammates. Which will create a greater backlash among those who criticize the players who don’t stand.
As the November elections approach, every candidate in America will be asked to take a side in the great National Football League anthem debate. Candidates who side with the players who remain in the locker room will be blasted as unpatriotic. Candidates who support requiring all players to stand will be blasted for failing to respect our country’s reverence for freedom of speech.
If you thought the NFL’s national anthem stance was a mess before, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s going to be an even bigger mess this year.