GUEST VIEW: NFL finds reasonable middle ground with new rule

The following editorial was published in the May 30 edition of the Sioux City Journal:

(AP) Because of a new rule adopted by team owners, the issue of protest by NFL players during the national anthem will be in the spotlight again this season.

Unanimously, owners earlier this month approved a policy under which players will be required to stand if they are on the field during the anthem, but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if they prefer. The policy subjects teams to a fine if a player or any other team personnel do not demonstrate respect for the anthem on the field, such as sitting or taking a knee. Under the rule, teams will have the option to fine team personnel, including players, for an infraction.

“We want people to be respectful of the national anthem,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “We want people to stand — that’s all personnel — and make sure they treat this moment in a respectful fashion. That’s something we think we owe. (But) we were also very sensitive to give players choices.”

We see nothing wrong with this policy.

The NFL anthem controversy began in 2016 when quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who played for the San Francisco 49ers, sat during the anthem before a pre-season game between the 49ers and Green Bay Packers. His reason? Oppression of blacks and other Americans of color in our country.

As we said at the time, we respect Kaepernick’s opinion; in fact, we believe he makes points related to race and civil rights in need of examination and discussion. In our view, though, he chose the wrong way to send this message because the national anthem symbolizes something much bigger and deeper than any one single issue.

As Americans, we can disagree with government decisions or embrace anger and frustration at societal wrongs within our country, but we should remain always respectful of our flag, what it represents and the men and women in uniform who defend it. We believe better ways exist for Kaepernick and other NFL players to use their stature as high-profile professional athletes and public figures to make their points and make a difference in this national conversation.

We aren’t alone. As evidenced by a Yahoo Sports/YouGov poll showing 53 percent of self-described NFL viewers support the new NFL anthem policy and 32 percent do not, a strong majority of football fans wants to see a demonstration of respect for the anthem on the field before games.

We see nothing whatsoever wrong with the league establishing workforce policies governing behavior during the anthem in order to protect its brand and bottom line, both of which suffered as the anthem controversy grew. Yes, we Americans enjoy a constitutional right to freedom of speech, but we all work within rules of conduct established by our employers.

We view the new NFL rule as an acceptable middle ground on all of this.

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