Sports | May 28, 2018 5:00 am

Did the NFL Put Patriotism Ahead of Players, Fans and the First Amendment?

League's controversial new pre-game policy fines teams if players kneel during the national anthem.

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Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneel in protest on the sideline. (Michael Zagaris/49ers/Getty)

On Wednesday, the NFL announced a change in their pre-game policy: Players may opt to remain in the locker room for the duration of the national anthem but if they kneel, their team will be fined.

The Ringer judges this effort to stop the protest as incredibly misguided, for numerous reasons. First, instances of kneeling in protest had already dwindled by the end of last year; only seven players took a knee during the final week of the 2017 regular season. Likewise, players were not consulted at all about the decision prior to its announcement, which sets up a possible fight with the union as to whether or not it violates the collective bargaining agreement. But there one major reason for the new rule, The Ringer writes: Donald Trump. League owners were afraid that he would once again lash out at the league like he did last fall and mobilize his base to stop watching or attending games or even burn their team gear on social media, as some did.

According to The Ringer, this new policy confirms some criticism that league owners have a very narrow, jingoistic definition of patriotism—one that prizes ostentatious displays of love of country and military might over free speech and political dissent. Relatedly, in 2015, Republican Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake released a report showing that the Department of Defense had put some $6.8 million of taxpayer money toward professional sports leagues for displays like the NFL’s “Salute to Service,” a pattern the senators condemned as “paid patriotism.” But now, the NFL has backed themselves into a corner, because Trump will continue to fan the flame, players are now rightfully infuriated, and the need for the protest seems more relevant than ever.