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Flagging The NFL’s New Policy: What's Next? Loyalty Oaths To The Stars And Stripes?

In this Oct. 29, 2017, file photo, Houston Texans players kneel and stand during the singing of the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, in Seattle. NFL owners have approved a new policy aimed at addressing the firestorm over national anthem protests, permitting players to stay in the locker room during the "The Star-Spangled Banner" but requiring them to stand if they come to the field. The decision was announced Wednesday, May 23, 2018, by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the league's spring meeting in Atlanta. (Elaine Thompson/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
In this Oct. 29, 2017, file photo, Houston Texans players kneel and stand during the singing of the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, in Seattle. NFL owners have approved a new policy aimed at addressing the firestorm over national anthem protests, permitting players to stay in the locker room during the "The Star-Spangled Banner" but requiring them to stand if they come to the field. The decision was announced Wednesday, May 23, 2018, by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the league's spring meeting in Atlanta. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

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Beginning next season, players who might have intended to take a knee during the national anthem will remain in the locker room until the music dies.

Players who agree to stand during the anthem will be allowed on the field during the ceremony, after which they will be joined by their previously confined teammates.

So sayeth the NFL owners. They haven’t said what sort of retribution they’ll rain down on players who balk at the restriction, though they have announced a plan to fine the team employing “any personnel, including players, who do not show appropriate respect for the anthem.”

If they’d continued their deliberations, those owners might have come up with a dumber policy ... but probably not. It makes you wonder if the time is coming when fans will be required to sign loyalty oaths to the stars and stripes before they can enter the stadium. Silly, sure. But any sillier than wrapping the NFL in the flag and demanding that the players salute before they play?

If they’d continued their deliberations, those owners might have come up with a dumber policy ... but probably not.

From this boardroom full of old, white men has emerged a rule certain to aggravate at least a considerable percentage of the young, predominantly black labor force over which the old white men preside. Maybe that was part of the purpose of this directive.

“We’ll tell you what to do, and you’ll do it.”

Apparently another part of the purpose was to appease the president of the United States. He injected himself into this affair last year by declaring that any player who took a knee during the anthem was an SOB who needed to be fired. A crowd of his supporters cheered that fascist notion. I wonder how loudly they’d cheer if some of the players who’ve helped their team win each Sunday were bounced from the roster for demonstrating in favor of a more just country rather than silently standing while — again and again — their fellow citizens were bullied, beaten and shot in the street by those charged with protecting them?

The president is probably delighted by the NFL’s new rule. If the SOB’s can’t be fired, at least they can be restrained in the locker room, hidden from the crowd and the TV cameras while the “patriotic” players behave themselves and present a phony image of unity. The show is all, no matter what righteous indignation festers beneath it.

This unilateral policy bound to divide teams into factions before they run out on to the field has arrived at an especially uncomfortable time. The same president who wanted the knee-taking SOB’s fired has spoken of limiting press credentials to reporters and news organizations he favors. Those serving his administration this week removed a credentialed reporter from a summit on contaminants in drinking water for no reason.

In this Thursday, April 30, 2015 file photo, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during the first round of the 2015 NFL Football Draft in Chicago. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
In this Thursday, April 30, 2015 file photo, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during the first round of the 2015 NFL Football Draft in Chicago. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Which brings us back to the flag. The players who have elected to demonstrate their outrage at the way black people are sometimes treated as targets and often treated as second-class citizens by those in power in this nation have made the purpose of their demonstrations clear. They have nothing against the military. They have nothing against the flag, or the anthem or the Fourth of July.

But like anyone determined to lodge a meaningful protest, they understand that a gesture that nobody notices is an empty one. So they have protested when people are watching. There was a time when the citizens in this democracy could take the right to do that for granted, and that time will come again. But by coming up with a policy which allows on to the field during the playing of the anthem only players who’ll do as they’re told, the NFL owners have collaborated in an attack on one of the most significant rights necessary to that democracy. May they see the error of their ways — or perhaps, more likely, be made to see it — before the next football season can begin.

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