As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Now we will see the ultimate measure of the NFL players who claim they so passionately want to continue pursuing their protests during pre-game national anthems.
Since Sept. 2016 when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the performance of the national anthem before NFL games, several NFL players from multiple teams have joined him by protesting police brutality the same way.
Earlier this week, NFL owners unanimously — with the exception of one abstention from the 49ers owner — implemented new rules that require players on the field during the national anthem to stand. Players will also have the option to remain in the locker room during the national anthem. Players who violate these rules will have their teams fined and presumably the teams will transfer these fines to the players themselves.
It’s easy to understand both sides of the controversy. On the one hand, one must understand the reasoning behind this decision from the owners. It is obvious that the majority of the NFL-watching public finds the protests distasteful. NFL ratings dropped over nine percent in the 2017 season after the protests began.
As such, there is no doubt NFL owners — who view their teams as their business — cannot sit idly by while their employees do not perform with the characteristics that generate the most income. Based on the owners’ business interests, there is no doubt they would set guidelines for their employees to fix the income loss. If their employees — the players — disagree with the guidelines, they are free to leave. The owners want to please their consumers — the fans.
The protesting players on the other hand are not concerned with generating income for the owners; they care about the causes they are protesting — assuming these protests are genuine. Protests are meant to make the public feel uncomfortable, to challenge the status quo. Obviously an authentic protest would make the public uncomfortable.
Now that NFL owners have given the protestors a choice — stop the protests or pay a fine — we will see whether these players really do care about protesting or if it is all a media stunt.
Until now, protesting has cost players nothing. They take a knee during a two-minute singing performance, continue playing the sport they love and go home cashing in millions of dollars off their contract.
To the anger and frustration of many players, NFL owners did not consider feedback from the Players Association before making their decision. This gives players a valid reason to be upset.
But if their protests against police brutality, African-American oppression and Donald Trump are genuine and sincere, they will be willing to lose something — to sacrifice — for the continuation of their expressions and fight what they claim is now the oppression of the owners against them.
Indeed, just as King said, this will be the “ultimate measure” of how much they truly care about the issues they claim are so important that they are worth the public scorn of the entire league.