NFL owners are reportedly considering a rule change to force players to stand for the national anthem — a sharp rebuke to protests over racial injustice and police brutality.
Owners at the football league will apparently discuss the change at a meeting next week, according to a report from Dow Jones. This would by and large enforce a policy that’s already technically on the books.
The report comes after months of controversy over the NFL protests. Led by President Donald Trump, critics have argued that the demonstrations by predominantly black players have disrespected the flag, military, and country by refusing to stand for the national anthem. But the actual protesters say the demonstrations are about standing — well, kneeling — against racial injustice and police brutality.
When he launched the protests, former NFL player Colin Kaepernick said as much. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he argued during his original protests. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Trump’s mischaracterization of the protests, however, has gotten a lot of attention as he’s ramped up his criticisms. On Tuesday morning, Trump said on Twitter that the NFL should lose its tax breaks, tweeting, “Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!”
Trump’s spin on the protests is, again, completely detached from reality. As Fox Sports 1 and First Things First host Nick Wright pointed out, “When people march, they are not protesting traffic. The players have been uniform that they are using the anthem as a vehicle to protest inequality, police brutality, and racial injustice.”
But the president’s attention has put a tremendous spotlight on the NFL and some of the big sports networks, particularly ESPN. This has thrown these typically apolitical organizations into risky territory: They already face dwindling viewership numbers, and getting into politically charged debates that could offend Trump-backing viewers is simply not an outcome that they want to see.
So the NFL is apparently considering drastic measures — by perhaps forcing its players to do something they clearly do not want to do.
For more on the NFL protests, read Vox’s explainer.