The National Football League has instituted a new policy for it’s players during the National Anthem, and of course the uproar over it has started again. Some are excited and happy because you should stand proudly during the Anthem, others are complaining how the players first amendment rights are being trampled on, and others are talking about how horrible it is that players are being forced to stand. I hope to separate the fact from fiction, and provide some perspective.
FACT: No player is forced to stand for the National Anthem. The NFL has lifted the rule that requires players to be on the field for the National Anthem. Protesting the flag, no matter how you feel about it, is protected speech, so forcing players to stand would constitute compelled speech, and that is wrong. Players may remain in the locker room, or similar areas, during the National Anthem. Those players on the field at the time of the anthem are required to stand. If you can not, as a matter of conscience or protest, stand for the Anthem, you need not be on the field.
FICTION: Players are having their first amendment rights taken away. NFL Players work for their team, just like many of us work for someone else, or have employees that work for us. As employees, they have rules, most of which are common to all employees everywhere. Be on time, or there are consequences. Wear your uniform. And yes, restrictions on speech. No employee has the absolute right to protest while at work. Employee speech can be, and is, restricted, on the job. We seem to be treating this situation as if it is different than any other job, and that is why there is so much misunderstanding around it.
FACT: The NFL, more properly the individual teams that belong to the trade organization known as the NFL, is a business. Just like any business, it markets itself to the target audience in the hopes of making a profit. Last year there was a significant drop in viewership. The market research showed that it had a lot to do with the uproar over the National Anthem. Like any good business, when the bottom line is negatively impacted, steps are taken to change the issues that are adversely affecting the bottom line. That’s pretty much universal. Also like any business, employees, while on the clock, have to follow the rules. In most places that means the employee manual/handbook. In the NFL, that book is called the operations manual.
FICTION: This is an attempt to silence players and take attention away from issues that concern them. This is not at all the truth. Listening to the players, the NFL has invested in partnerships with numerous charities and advocacy organizations to try and address the concerns that players have. It would be accurate to say that they are trying to put the attention on football while the game is on though, and since that is their business, it makes sense.
At the end of this, the simple truth is that this is a business that has employees. Employees are expected to represent the business well, with in the law. No player or employee is required to be on the field for the National Anthem, but those who choose to be are expected to represent the business in a manner that is acceptable. That is not fundamentally different from any other job, so we really need to stop treating it like it is.