With the first game of the 2020 season only 17 days away and with players from both the Texans and Chiefs (and Texans coach Bill O’Brien) making it clear that they’ll kneel during the national anthem to bring further attention to and awareness of the problem of police misconduct against minorities, there is and should be no doubt that the man who runs the league supports the protests.
“We have never disciplined a single player for anything with the national anthem and in violation [of league rules], and I don’t intend to,” Commissioner Roger Goodell told Emmanual Acho during Acho’s Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man digital series. “And I will support them.
Goodell made it clear that, regardless of any kneeling that will happen this year (and given the recent shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin there likely will be even more kneeling than there otherwise would have been), the league will not stop it from happening.
“Players have [taken a knee],” Goodell said. “They still do today. And they did last season. And we’ve never disciplined any of them. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.”
While it’s good to hear that Goodell supports the protests, the fact remains that the league can’t discipline players, due to a pre-existing league policy that does not mandate standing during the anthem. The league has not attempted to change the policy via collective bargaining; until it does, the players retain the right to kneel without consequence.
The broader question is whether the league office will continue to tolerate efforts by specific teams to pressure players to choose to stand. The Cowboys have been at the front of that specific pack, and the Cowboys have not yet said what they will or won’t tolerate or support in 2020.
However it’s handled, any kneeling will result in a Twitter tantrum from certain fans and politicians who still equate kneeling with disrespect of the flag, the military, and the country. The league at this point doesn’t seem to care about the consequences. If/when there are tangible consequences, it will be interesting to see whether the league’s support of protests during the anthem continues to be as unconditional as will be when the season starts.