David J. Phillip/AP
- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made a rare appearance this season and was asked about the discussions with the players' association to revise the new anthem policy.
- Goodell's answer was evasive but also easy to interpret — the league has moved on, and the policy appears to have been mothballed for now.
- If true, it is a brilliant move as the issue has mostly died out on its own and introducing any new policy now would only anger one side or the other, or worse, both sides, as had happened over the summer.
The NFL had a new policy for players during the national anthem, and then they didn't. Now it looks like the discussions to revise that short-lived rule have been quietly mothballed, and it is the best move the league has made yet since Colin Kaepernick first took a knee in 2016.
During a segment on the NFL Network, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made a rare appearance this season and was asked about the discussions with the players' association to revise the new policy. His answer was, let's say, evasive, and was reminiscent of Bill Belichick's famous "We are on to Cincinnati" comments when asked about previous struggles.
"The focus has been on the efforts the players have brought in their communities, and they are working on the issues to make their communities better," said Goodell, according to Ian Rapoport. "That’s where our focus is."
While Goodell doesn't address the question directly, it is not difficult to read between the lines and see that there is no focus on the anthem policy. In other words, it appears to be dead.
The move is brilliant on multiple levels.
With the NFL not publicly stating that the policy is dead, it allows for it to be resurrected at some point in the future. It also doesn't give President Donald Trump anything to criticize, as he most likely would have otherwise.
More importantly for the NFL, dropping the idea of a new policy keeps the issue from becoming a big story again.
Towards the end of the 2017 season, the issue had mostly dissipated — fewer players were kneeling, fans were no longer talking about it, and Trump had stopped using it as a rallying cry that "lifts" him.
That changed when the NFL announced a new policy over the summer in which players would be punished if they did not stand, but gave them the option of remaining in the locker room if they chose otherwise. The move backfired before a single game had been played as players were upset the league went behind their backs and designed a policy without their input. In addition, the rule that was intended to appease Trump instead sent him back to Twitter to criticize the league, saying the decision to stay in the locker room would be "as disrespectful to our country as kneeling."
In other words, the NFL had taken a touchy subject and made it worse by angering both the left and the right, a nightmare of the worst kind in this political climate.
Fast-forward four months and the NFL appears to have learned their lesson. Rather than rock the boat and risk alienating both sides again, they seem content just to let the policy fade away into oblivion, and so far it is working.
Jason E. Miczek/APWhen the Carolina Panthers signed Eric Reid, the first player to join Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem, earlier this season, it raised eyebrows. When he wore a shirt to his first press conference expressing support for Kaepernick and when he kneeled during his first game with his new team, people noticed.
But the moves also quickly faded away. There were no angry Trump tweets and almost no national discussion on how it would affect the league.
Most people had moved on.
And now, so has the NFL's new anthem policy.
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