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November 12, 2018

GREENE: How does a private company like the NFL get away with deciding who a patriot is?

May 27, 2018
Players of the Detroit Lions take a knee during the playing of the national anthem prior to the start of the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field on Sept. 24, 2017 in Detroit, Mich.

So, let’s recap what we’ve learned Wednesday about the NFL: The league stands firmly behind a team with the most racist logo in all of sports, but could not care less about freedom of speech or civil rights.

By adopting a new policy that punishes players for kneeling in protest during the national anthem, the NFL is doing to the First Amendment what Lawrence Taylor used to do to quarterbacks.




And, while I get that the First Amendment was designed to protect our speech from government reprisal, what I don’t understand is how a private company like the NFL can get away with defining who is or isn’t a patriot.

Under the new policy, approved with no input from the athletes or their union, players and personnel will be required to stand during the national anthem if they are on the field, but will have the option to remain in the locker room during the performance.

Players who kneel or sit during the song will be subject to a fine.

“We want people to be respectful of the national anthem,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “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.”

Briean Boddy-Calhoun #20 and Christian Kirksey #58 of the Cleveland Browns hold their fists in the air during the National Anthem before the game at FirstEnergy Stadium on Oct. 1, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Briean Boddy-Calhoun #20 and Christian Kirksey #58 of the Cleveland Browns hold their fists in the air during the National Anthem before the game at FirstEnergy Stadium on Oct. 1, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Choices? What choices. Stand for the national anthem like a good little linebacker, or go sit in the corner of the locker room.

If a player suits up for the Cowboys, he has to wear a star on his helmet. Understood. And if he has to wear a jacket on the team flight, that’s not asking too much.

But don’t tell him he can’t silently protest injustice in a way that does not impede the game because it hurts the team’s bottom line.

And what about the player who comes out for the national anthem, but decides to put on a black glove and raise his fist in the air while standing?

It has been done before. Fifty years ago, to be exact, at 1968 the Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

The NFL implemented a rule where all personnel and players are required to stand during the nathional anthem or remain in the locker room.
The NFL implemented a rule where all personnel and players are required to stand during the nathional anthem or remain in the locker room.

Track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos — who won gold and bronze respectively in the 200-meter sprint — didn’t take a knee, but their silent black power salute was heard all over the world.

“As the anthem began and the crowd saw us raise our fists, the stadium became eerily quiet,” Carlos wrote in his 2011 book, “The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World.”

“For a few seconds, you honestly could have heard a frog piss on cotton. There’s something awful about hearing fifty thousand people go silent, like being in the eye of a hurricane.”

Soon, they were showered in boos, and spectators began screaming about ramparts and rockets at the top of their lungs.

“It was like they were saying, ‘Oh, you anti-American sons of bitches. We’re going to shove the s–t down your throat!’ ” Carlos wrote. “They screamed it to the point where it seemed less a national anthem than a barbaric call to arms.”




Is that where we are, now? Have we really gone back that far?




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