NFL and NFLPA freeze anthem policy amid controversy with Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills (10), tight end Julius Thomas (89) and strong safety Michael Thomas (31), kneel during the National Anthem, before the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Never doubt the power of bad publicity and backlash; they’re often the quickest way to effect change in the court of public opinion. For professional football, that change was putting the two-month old national anthem policy on hold.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Miami Dolphins players who take any form of direct action on the field during the playing of the national anthem could be suspended for up to four games, fined, or both under a team discipline policy issued earlier this week.

The nine-page discipline policy included a section titled “Proper Anthem Conduct” that listed on-field protests within a long detailing of “conduct detrimental to the club.”

The final bullet point on the Dolphins’ list of detrimental conduct says: “Players who are on the field during the Anthem performance must stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.” On the list, it falls just below disparaging teammates, coaches, or officials, including the NFL Commissioner.

The Dolphins said in statement: “The NFL required each team to submit their rules regarding the anthem before their players reported to training camp. We will address this issue once the season starts. All options are still open.”

Hours after the news broke, the NFL Players Association and the NFL issued a statement saying both sides are working out the issues.

“The NFL and NFLPA, through recent discussions, have been working on a resolution to the anthem issue. In order to allow this constructive dialogue to continue, we have come to a standstill agreement on the NFLPA’s grievance and on the NFL’s anthem policy. No new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks while these confidential discussions are ongoing,” the statement read.

“The NFL and NFLPA reflect the great values of America, which are repeatedly demonstrated by the many players doing extraordinary work in communities across our country to promote equality, fairness, and justice. Our shared focus will remain on finding a solution to the anthem issue through mutual, good faith commitments, outside of litigation.”

The NFLPA filed a class-action, non-injury grievance against the anthem policy last week challenging the policy, arguing it was imposed without negotiation with the union and is “inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on players rights.”

With this statement, it seems both sides are hoping to reach a settlement without arbitration.

The NFL anthem rule was passed in May during the team owners’ scheduled meeting. It prohibited players from sitting or taking a knee while on the sidelines during the playing of the national anthem, but gave them the choice of staying in the locker room if they wanted. The policy said teams would be fined if players didn’t stand and left it up to teams to determine the appropriate discipline.

The NFL has only required players to be on the field for the national anthem since 2009—the same year it inked a deal with the military to drum up rabid patriotism.

The “take-a-knee” action began in 2016 when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting racism, police brutality, and social injustice by taking a knee during the national anthem. His action spread to other players and teams—drawing strong criticism from Trump and company for being “unpatriotic,” though the latter of course refused to dig deep and find out why players were demonstrating against injustice.

Trump’s tweeticisms (criticisms) led over 200 players to take-a-knee during one regular season weekend, while others kept it up throughout 2017.

Kaepernick remains blacklisted from the NFL, while former teammate Safety Eric Reid also remains unemployed.

Both have filed collusion grievances against the league and they will likely move forward while the class-action charge is put on hold for further joint discussion.

 

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CONTRIBUTOR

Al Neal
Al Neal

Al Neal is a sports columnist for People’s World writing on politics, labor relations, and the general rabble-rousing in professional sports. He spent a decade working in the trade union movement with various locals across the country and currently serves as Dir. of Education and Advocacy for the St. Louis Workers’ Education Society. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Sports Media Association, National Society for Newspaper Columnists and the NewsGuild, Neal’s work and reporting has been featured in the Labor-TribuneBuzzfeed NewsRussia Today (RT)Sputnik News Wire, and Getty Images. More words at GrandStand Central.

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