The NFL uses the most NFL way possible to deal with nagging non-problem of players kneeling


The National Football League has come to grips with social protest among its employees in the classic NFL way – as an optics problem.
And the solution is to let protest reign, as long as nobody sees it.
The 32 owners decided Wednesday to introduce a new rubric for individual teams to use in dealing with the nagging non-problem of players kneeling for the National Anthem – namnely, to offer the option of staying the locker room during the anthem. But the back hand of that is that teams that choose to be in plain view during the song cannot “disrespect” the anthem by not conforming to standing at rigid attention.
In other words, it put a band-aid on a paper cut and acted like it had casted a broken tibia.
Granted, there wasn’t a lot the league could do because, as has been the case throughout the last half-decade or so, it is lousy at contributing its voice to social issues. These are turbulent times, and the NFL has always worked best when conformity is the preferred public mood.
So the anthem solution, which is largely a red herring when it comes to deciphering why the league is losing ratings points and children’s attention spans, represents the NFL trying to simply hide the issue so that people will forget that it exists at all. And that may work for the moment because we as a culture believes that how things look are more important than how they actually are.
But the real issues besetting football are elsewhere. They are rooted in the game’s perpetual safety failings, the diminishing number of kids playing the sport, and the growing number of kids who don’t want to invest three-plus hours of watching on the weekends because “that’s what Dad does.”
It is, however, easier to kick the can down the aisle on those slowly building issues and deal with the barking dog of anthem disrespect. Kneeling for the anthem represents a social statement about our societal failings to the protesters, but to the NFL it represents a level of individualism and independent thought in a sport and business that greatly distrusts both of those things.
So the anthem issues will go away, but if the ratings are still decreasing at the end of this year of visual obedience, the NFL will be faced with the issue they thought they could clothe with a winter coat made of the American flag:
That maybe the sport wasn’t hurt by players' exercises of free speech but by evolution itself. Maybe, despite the shoutings of the true believer robots, football has finally crested in America, the guarantees of continued rampant growth no longer guaranteed in a country that is changing in more ways than sideline decorum can address.

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