May 24, 2018

This week, in a long overdue decision, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the league would fine any team or employee (i.e., player) who fails “to stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem” during NFL games.

As I argued when this trend of refusing to stand during the National Anthem first started, it is not an infringement on First Amendment rights to demand respectful behavior of employees when they are at work. The government isn’t telling them they can’t speak out; their employer is ordering them to observe a basic rule of conduct that’s part of their job. If they don’t like it, they’re free to give up their multi-million dollar contracts and go rail against America in the park all they like. But when they are representing the NFL in uniform during a game, they have no more right to make divisive political speeches that alienate the audience than a McDonald’s clerk would have the right to harangue a customer with his or her personal political opinions.

But of course, this is 2018, the era of Trump Derangement Syndrome, so the NFL couldn’t just say they expect the players to show respect for the flag and Anthem when they’re on the clock because it’s the right thing to do and it’s contractually required of them. No, they had to find a way to make one of the most basic standards of the job and of good citizenship sound outrageous and unfair and blame it on Trump.

And so we have stories like the one at the link, in which anonymous sources blame the new policy (actually, just a firm restatement of the longstanding policy) on the league being “terrified” of Trump. Even a team owner who is reportedly a Trump friend is quoted as slamming Trump, claiming that his criticism of the players is “divisive and it’s horrible” and “not in the best interests of America.” Hey, wait a minute: so the players’ criticism of America is protected free speech, but Trump’s criticism of them is divisive, horrible and anti-American?

What they’re really terrified of is the sharp drop-off in viewership since the NFL “got woke,” turned left, and let some players politicize what was once a nonpartisan common area of enjoyment for all Americans, and their ratings naturally followed ESPN and the Oscars down the drain. According to Nielsen, NFL TV ratings fell by an average of 9.7% in one year, and average viewership per game dropped by 1.6 million people.

They blame this on Trump badmouthing the players, but that’s yet another insult to their own fans. News flash to the NFL: the millions of patriotic football fans who were offended by the shows of disrespect for the flag and the National Anthem did not tune out because Trump criticized the people doing it. We didn’t need him to tell us to be offended. He wasn’t telling us what to think, he was just saying what we were already saying.

And incidentally, I can attest that this is one of those incredibly rare occasions when Donald Trump expressed himself in terms that were positively genteel compared to what I’ve privately heard from a lot of other NFL fans.

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