Trump Renews Attacks on Kneeling Players as NFL Opts Not to Punish Them

“If the players stood proudly for our Flag and Anthem, maybe ratings would come back?”

Former San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid and quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneel during the national anthem in September 2016. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

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As the 2018 football season kicks off, the NFL has opted not to punish players who kneel during the national anthem. But that’s not stopping President Donald Trump from attacking players who don’t stand during the anthem.

On Sunday, Trump lobbed his latest Twitter tirade, writing, “If the players stood proudly for our Flag and Anthem, and it is all shown on broadcast, maybe ratings would come back?”

The league’s first full day of games begins amid news that the league will not punish players who kneel during the anthem. According to ESPN, negotiations on the issue have stalled, and so the league has decided the best policy is no policy for the time being. 

Back in May, the NFL’s owners announced a policy requiring all players and league personnel on the sideline to stand for the national anthem, but the policy gave them the option to stay in the locker room if they chose not to stand. That announcement caused the NFL Players Association to file a grievance against the league, arguing that the policy was decided without consultation from the players’ union and violated players’ rights to free speech.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 as a way to protest the killing of unarmed black people by police in America. Kaepernick, once one of the NFL’s most electrifying stars, opted out of his contract with the rebuilding 49ers after that season ended and has been a free agent ever since.

Last October, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL, arguing that team owners have conspired to keep him out of the league because of his silent protest and outspoken activism. Just before this season kicked off, Nike, the NFL’s official sponsor and a longtime marketer of rebellion against authority, announced that Kaepernick is the new face of its 30th-anniversary Just Do It ad campaign with the tag line “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” 

Sales jumped 31 percent. Rebellion, it seems, is good for business.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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