The NFL fumbled the ball with its new kneeling policy, according to a pair of legal experts.
While the new decree is not quite a blitz on the First Amendment, the rules leave the popular notion of free speech bloodied and bruised, they said.
“The public/private line gets blurred when the President of the United States starts to demand or suggest that bosses take certain action against protests from their workers,” said Ron Kuby, a civil rights attorney.
“In the broader context of what we consider freedom of speech, this is an appalling capitulation of bullying by the worst type of people.”
Eight months after President Trump blasted kneeling players and urged owners to “get that son of a bitch off the field,” the NFL on Wednesday approved a new national anthem policy that requires players and personnel to stand if they are on the field during the playing of the anthem.
Players who kneel or sit during the song will be subject to a fine.
But California-based attorney Ron Sokol, who has written extensively about the First Amendment, was quick to throw a flag on the new policy.
“I’m not sure they have authority,” Sokol said. “If they do, I’m not sure that authority would be upheld.”
Sokol said a legal challenge might force the NFL to draw the line on the issue.
“What if a fan inadvertently forgets to remove his cap during the national anthem?” Sokol said. “Is he going to get thrown out of the game?”
Kuby said a court might view the new policy as a political punishment for protest activity.
But no rule, he said, will keep players from getting their message out.
“The unintended irony of this is that it invites and compels creative protest activity that falls outside the restriction,” Kuby said.