It’s an unenviable situation to face. In a political climate where the fault lines of the American foundation are seeming to show more and more, the National Football League has attempted to do the nearly impossible — straddle both sides of the divide.
In October 2017, when the complex debate about free speech, protest, patriotism and workplace conduct in the NFL was reaching its white-hot apex, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell tried to re-assert the league’s political agnosticism. “What we are trying to stay out of his politics, he said at the NFL fall meetings that month.
His words would prove to be impotent. Since then, the league, its players, its viewership and its level of commitment to patriotic demonstrations have been favorite talking points of President Donald Trump — a fairly pure indicator of a political issue. In the same 2017 meeting, Goodell and other owners also said they wouldn’t change the league’s anthem policy, which encouraged but didn’t require players to stand. In May of this year, the league issued a new policy, much to the consternation of some players and staff.