The timing was hardly coincidental that the NFL and NFLPA issued a joint statement pressing pause on the league’s new anthem policy only hours after word emerged regarding 2018 work rules from the Dolphins that vaguely connected violations of the anthem policy to potential suspensions. As more and more camps open, more and more similar reports would have emerged.
So the league smartly mobilized to put out up to 31 other fires before they started, and the union agreed (possibly without getting anything in return) to that approach. The question now becomes whether the two sides can agree on yet another new anthem policy before the regular season begins, six weeks and six days from now in the city were our collective freedoms were secured more than 240 years ago.
It won’t be easy, unless the union decides to demonstrate the kind of magnanimity at the bargaining table that the league never would. The players hold the cards on this one, especially if the NFL hopes to emerge with an NBA-style rule that players will stand for the anthem — and not to stay in the locker room as an alternative to participating in the pre-game display of patriotism.
The league should have swooped in two years ago and struck a deal with the NFLPA to make standing mandatory, right after Colin Kaepernick was first spotted sitting during the anthem. But the league likely didn’t want to make any concessions in order to make that happen. In the months since August 2016, as the controversy has grown and grown, the price for getting the players to agree to stand surely has gone up, and up.
Unless, of course, union leadership is willing to bend on this issue to boost mutual business interests, even if there’s no hard evidence that the anthem issue actually has affected business interests. At a minimum, the union would need to emerge with something in return for an agreement to stand for the anthem. Otherwise, the internal and external blowback could become significant.
Whatever they do, a P.R. minefield awaits. If the second revised anthem policy still allows for any form of protest, a certain politician who could benefit from the distraction right about now (and pretty much during any given news cycle) will pounce. And if Anthem Policy 3.0 entails a joint agreement from the league and players to stand, victory will be declared — and declared again and again until the midterm elections and beyond.
So good luck, NFL and NFLPA, as you try to solve this one. While you’re at it, go ahead and try to extend the CBA, cure cancer, achieve world peace, and figure out whether Tony Soprano was still alive after the screen went dark.