On Wednesday, the National Football League unveiled a new set of guidelines designed to curtail protests during the national anthem.
The policy, unanimously and unilaterally approved by all 32 team owners without input from the NFL Players Association, permits players and personnel to remain off the field during the pre-game ceremonies, but also imposes fines should any player refuse to stand during the recitation of the national anthem while on the field.
Though billed as a compromise by the league’s front office, the NFLPA slammed the decision, vowing to challenge the new edicts as violations of their collective bargaining agreement.
For most observers, the new policy reads as it should: the league moving to silence and suppress black voices. Cynics can interpret the move as purely a business decision, pointing to ever-declining viewership numbers as “evidence” that the protests are responsible for dragging down the multi-billion dollar business’s bottom line (spoiler: they’re not).
And then there’s CNN.
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) May 23, 2018
Lavishing praise on Donald Trump for Wednesday’s decision is the most galaxy-brain take you will read all week. From the outset, Trump’s fixation on the NFL protests had nothing to do with respect for the flag or the military — you’ll recall this is the same person who repeatedly attacked gold star families and insulted prisoners of war — and everything to do with provoking his rabid supporters. If anything, the prospect of losing anthem protests as a straw man is a devastating blow to Trump heading into the midterms.
Mike Pence’s “#Winning” addendum to the above tweet is revealing. His declaration of victory is correct, insofar as his office has worked just as hard as the NFL to ensure black people and other minorities are silenced while ignoring white supremacist protests.
The NFL’s new rules come after a season in which dozens of players protested against institutionalized racism and police brutality by remaining seated or kneeling during the singing of the national anthem. The silent, peaceful act first gained widespread attention thanks to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who first took a knee during a 2016 preseason game.
Since then, the league’s front office has stumbled its way towards any semblance of a cohesive position on how to manage and respond to the protests. The tension seemingly came to a head last September, when Donald Trump unleashed one of his trademark temper tantrums right before Week 3 of the NFL season. During a rally in Alabama, Trump referred to the predominantly black group of protesters as “sons of bitches,” later suggesting that anyone who protests during the national anthem should be cut from the team.
“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast,” said the country’s most infamous draft dodger.