NFL Commissioner Goodell fumbles on flag policy

It was a swing and a miss. No, that’s the wrong metaphor. It was a fumble. Trying to deal with the controversy over players taking a knee during the national anthem, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell failed to put the issue to rest.

Goodell explained in a recent press conference that the League believes “everyone should stand for the national anthem. It's an important part of our policy and the game. It’s important to honor our flag and our country and I think our fans expect that.”

But apparently he doesn’t believe it’s so important to honor our country that he’d actually require players to stand at attention. He thinks it would be great if they did, but hey, it’s their call.

Many fans seem to be deserting the NFL over the issue, with attendance and TV viewership down, so Goodell had to say something, and perhaps thought he could split the difference. But it’s hard to believe this will satisfy anyone.

The NFL tells its players (tells, not suggests) that excessive celebration after a play will be penalized. Yet deeply insulting behavior to the fans during the ceremony that starts the game is acceptable.

Let’s be clear — this is not a First Amendment issue. It’s not about the government telling the players what to do. It’s about their employers setting basic rules of conduct.

The NFL, for instance, tells its players (tells, not suggests) that excessive celebration after a play will be penalized. Yet deeply insulting behavior to the fans during the ceremony that starts the game is acceptable.

This is also not treating the players unfairly. This sort of thing applies to all jobs. If you work for, say, Federal Express, or McDonalds, while you wear their uniform, you’re expected to handle yourself a certain way. If someone orders a Big Mac and you start haranguing the customer with your views on abortion, the manager will tell you to stop it if you want to keep your job.

And this is not about whatever issues the players believe they’re commenting on. Entirely irrelevant.

Goodell earlier met with the players and spent time “talking about the issues player are trying to bring attention to.” Why? The players are free to hold whatever political opinions they wish, as is Goodell, and they can spend all the time and money they want fighting for their beliefs in their spare time.

But what they shouldn’t be doing is intentionally offending the fans — even for a good cause — or lecturing them, or waving fingers at them, when their job is to put on a good game.

Goodell shouldn’t care what the reason is for the insult. Whether it’s to protest police brutality or to protest taking down Robert E. Lee statues, it shouldn’t be the NFL’s policy to allow its players to be hurtful and rude to the people who ultimately pay their salaries.

Goodell stated “What we’re trying to do is stay out of politics.” Even if true (and how can it be when Goodell himself has said he’s committed to working with the players on social issues?), it’s a little late for that.

But the NFL has made its decision. Now it’s time for the fans to make theirs.