The NFL's national anthem copout 

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Earlier this month, the NFL announced it had officially adopted a new national anthem policy, affirming its commitment to "continuing our collaboration with players to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of society."

In reality, the only goals the league seems concerned with these days are the ones that will continue to line team owners' pockets.

Commissioner Roger Goodell can pay lip service to supporting players' right to protest racial injustice and police brutality all he wants, but the true agenda he serves can be found right there in his own tone-deaf statement on the matter.

"It is unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case." Translation: "It is unfortunate that players' on-field protests fucked with our cash flow. This is not, nor ever will be tolerated."

Goodell then goes on to detail the league's new anthem policy.

"This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room until after the Anthem has been performed."

Please, allow me to translate for you once more: "This season, all you ungrateful black millionaires shall stand and show respect for a piece of cloth and 200-year-old song that's been co-opted as a symbol of nationalist fervour to wield against anyone whose politics differ from that of our largely white fanbase. Any black millionaires who choose not to stand for the Anthem must stay hidden from view of the rabid, Trump-humping masses that pad our coffers."

But the true dog-whistle in all of this comes next, when Goodell says: "We believe today's decision will keep our focus on the game and the extraordinary athletes who play—and our fans who enjoy it."

The message the NFL is trying to send here is the equivalent to the internet troll tweeting at his (former) favourite athlete to "just stick to sports, man." It's a troubling line of thinking that sadly aligns with historical precedence in the United States. White America has never had a problem exploiting black bodies for their own ends nor do they seem overly troubled by their endless fetishization of black culture while simultaneously ignoring the plights of black people.

Protest is designed to cause discomfort, and progress is only achieved when the dominant majority finally decides to reckon with that unease. As much as American society likes to view civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. through the rose-hued glasses of history, the reality is, in his day, a majority of Americans saw him as an agitator, an extremist, and a Communist sympathizer. (In fact, the FBI considered King a serious threat to national security and monitored him closely for years. The agency even kept a dossier on him filled with salacious—and entirely fabricated—allegations that would have ruined his reputation had they been publicized.)

With its new policy, the NFL is putting white fans' discomfort over players' right to use their immense platforms for change—the very same players that put their bodies on the line week in and week out for the financial benefit of their billionaire owners.

The same lame argument that gets trotted out every time someone objects to a player kneeling in protest—"Stop disrespecting the troops!" they scream on cue—conflates a desire for positive change with a sense of national pride, as if those two things are mutually exclusive. But don't have me tell it. Let's hear from Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, college teammate of exiled quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick, who sparked league-wide protests when he decided to kneel for the anthem during the 2016 football season.

"The reason that we did this in the first place was to bring awareness to police brutality," Marshall said. "That's the reason we took a knee, and that was just the symbol. That was the symbol for what was going on, just like the flag is a symbol for America, right? So taking a knee was a symbol, and the work came after that, you know?"

The players have done their work. Now it's time for the NFL to do theirs by repealing their self-serving anthem policy. I won't hold my breath.


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