In the NFL, there are no spectrums. There are only polarities. Star or bust. Locker room guy or distraction. Truck or trailer. Divided or united.
The league is “divided,” you see, because black players originally kneeled during the “Star-Spangled Banner” to protest various forms of racial injustice in the United States. Now that those players have received attention, commissioner Roger Goodell wants them to be “unified”—as in, not doing that anymore. So, he has a plan to attempt to preserve the sanctity of players observing the national anthem, a timeless tradition that dates back all the way to 2009.
Goodell’s memo, via ESPN’s Adam Schefter (emphasis mine):
We live in a country that can feel very divided. Sports, and especially the NFL, brings people together and lets them set aside those divisions, at least for a few hours. The current dispute over the National Anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country.
I’m very proud of our players and owners who have done the hard work over the past year to listen, understand and attempt to address the underlying issues within their communities. At our September committee meetings, we heard directly from several players about why these issues are so important to them and how we can support their work. And last week, we met with the leadership of the NFLPA and more players to advance the dialogue.
Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem. It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.
Building on many discussions with clubs and players, we have worked to develop a plan that we will review with you at next week’s League meeting. This would include such elements as an in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues, and that will help to promote positive change in our country. We want to ensure that any work at the League level is consistent with the work that each club is doing in its own community, and that we dedicate a platform that can enable these initiatives to succeed. Additionally, we will continue the unprecedented dialogue with our players.
I expect and look forward to a full and open discussion of these issues when we meet next week in New York. Everyone involved in the game needs to come together on a path forward to continue to be a force for good within our communities, protect the game, and preserve our relationship with fans throughout the country. The NFL is at its best when we ourselves are unified. In that spirit, let’s resolve that next week we will meet this challenge in a unified and positive way.
Just so we’re clear on that bolded part, Goodell is telling players that the reason nothing is being done about police brutality, the carceral state, or institutionalized racism is that players have brought attention to the fact that nothing is being done.
What isn’t mentioned in the memo is that NFL owners will consider instituting real punishments to compel players to stand for the anthem. The language in the game operations manual had already changed at some point between 2014 and this season, adding a list of possible punishments for not standing (including loss of draft picks) and removing that the discipline would come from the league office.