The National Football League Players Association recently made its stance very clear: It does not like the NFL’s new national anthem policy — and it’s not afraid to go to court to demonstrate that.
The NFLPA released a statement this week announcing it had filed a grievance against its employer, the NFL, in response to the league’s latest national anthem policy.
The statement reads, “The union’s claim is that this new policy, imposed by the NFL’s governing body without consultation with the NFLPA, is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on player rights. In advance of our filing today, we proposed to the NFL to begin confidential discussions with the NFLPA Executive Committee to find a solution to this issue instead of immediately proceeding with litigation. The NFL has agreed to proceed with those discussions, and we look forward to starting them soon.”
The union can complain about its “rights” being “violated” all it wants — but that doesn’t make it true.
In May, the league updated its national anthem policy and gave players two choices, neither of which involves kneeling. They can stand for the flag while “The Star-Spangled Banner” is sung or played — or they can stay back in the locker room during the anthem.
That said, players are not exactly forced to stand.
But if they were forced to stand for the anthem, that would not be a violation, either. After all, in 2006 the Supreme Court ruled that free speech was not protected for public workers in Garcetti v. Ceballos. Perhaps such a ruling would provide some precedent if the players attempted to pursue this claim in court. That’s one of many rights that not every worker has these days.
It’s also worth mentioning that while the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement for this decade does not state that players must respect the flag, an interesting clause is included in all player contracts. It reads, “He [the player] agrees to give his best efforts and loyalty to the Club, and to conduct himself on and off the field with appropriate recognition of the fact that the success of professional football depends largely on public respect for and approval of those associated with the game.”
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So players agree to act in a respectful manner, which helps the NFL keep a favorable image. That’s great — except that many players have done the exact opposite by politicizing their sport.
From August to September of last year, the league’s favorability rating dropped from 57 percent to 44 percent in a survey conducted by The Winston Group. The NFL’s TV ratings have dropped by about 17 percent over the past two seasons (an 8 percent decline in 2016 and an additional 9.7 percent decline in 2017). Last July, a JD Power survey found that the national anthem protests were the No. 1 reason why fans were not watching games (26 percent).
So far, the NFL has been lenient with its players. It has not made standing for the national anthem a requirement — as the NBA has. The NFL agreed to donate $89 million to social justice causes of the Players’ Coalition’s choosing — and didn’t even ask for anything in exchange. And it has not disciplined players who have disrespected the police, military and country by kneeling for its anthem.
The NFL has been lenient with its players. It has not made standing for the national anthem a requirement — as the NBA has.
If the player’s union really wants to take this to court, good luck to them. It does not appear it has much of a case here, but it does have an opportunity to further damage the league’s reputation.
If it does go forward with such a lawsuit, there is little doubt the latter will occur.
Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday and other outlets.
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