Official team activities are ramping up across the NFL, but the topic dominating football discussions this offseason has nothing to do with quarterback play or preseason injuries. Instead, the league’s major topic of debate is centered on Wednesday’s reform to allow the NFL to punish teams whose players take a knee during the pregame national anthem.
That rule allows players to remain in the locker room during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but forces those who come to the sideline to show “appropriate respect for the flag and anthem” if they’re visible to the public during the ceremony. Teams will also have the autonomy to set their own policy when it comes to whether or not they’ll punish employees who demonstrate during the anthem.
It’s a controversial decision that came without input from the players and reportedly didn’t even go to an official vote before being ratified. Naturally, that’s led to plenty of debate on the topic. Here are some of the most notable takes on the NFL’s new rule, ranging from current players all the way to the President of the United States.
Players and coaches
Eagles teammates Chris Long and Malcolm Jenkins, two players who have been outspoken with their views off the field in the past, each released statements confirming they have no intention to stop fighting for the causes in which they believe.
Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin was unsurprised by the new rule.
Doug Baldwin on @710ESPNSeattle on the NFL Anthem rules today:— Jessamyn McIntyre (@JessamynMcIntyr) May 23, 2018
"I'm not surprised - the NFL cares about one thing and that's the NFL - that's the bottom line...I'm not surprised, I'm disappointed."
Says he's been in contact with Roger Goodell, calls the rule tone deaf.
He also believes the league “missed it” with the ruling, and said that though he respects Trump as human, he thought it was “not very American-like” for the president to say that anyone who doesn’t stand for the anthem should leave the country.
“It’s kind of ironic to me that the President of the United States is contradicting what our country is really built on.”
Broncos center Matt Paradis, however, isn’t sure much will change for him, and if it does it will come as part of a team movement.
“I can speak for myself: I’ll be out there, standing for the anthem. When it comes to the team policy, that’s something as a team we’ll have to get into that. The union, the same thing. We’ll have to consult with them. ... The owners, they are the employers, so if they want to create a stipulation, we’ll take it from there.”
Panthers wide receiver Torrey Smith sees flaws in the blanket statement that allows the league to penalize teams when players fail to show “appropriate respect” during the pregame anthem.
“Appropriate respect for flag and anthem” implies that guys were being disrespectful towards it. Which is an opinion. Most people who believe that ignore the responses from the players and more importantly why men chose to protest. https://t.co/j7nyw2Lkai— Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) May 23, 2018
“To make a decision that strong, you would hope that the players have input on it. But obviously not. So we have to deal with it as players, for good or a bad thing. At the end of the day they call the shots, make the rules, so that’s what we have to abide by. I think the main thing out of all of it is that each ball club is having open communication with the players and ownership about the issues that are going on in the community and trying to change it. I know that [the Browns] and even the team that I came from in Buffalo, they have been proactive about the situation and trying to do things in the community. So I think that should be the focus now and hopefully it is moving forward.”
Steelers cornerback Artie Burns went even further, comparing the league to a schoolyard bully, wielding its power unchecked.
Steelers corner Artie Burns on protesting players having to stay in the locker room during the anthem or face discipline/team fines: “You talk about bullying, man. That’s bullying.” pic.twitter.com/kTAeXqd9tp— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) May 24, 2018
Cardinals safety Antoine Bethea doesn’t agree with the change, but says Arizona will address the anthem as a team rather than as individuals.
“That’s just going to be something guys are going to deal with. Either it’s going to be a team thing and guys are going to stay in the locker room, or if it’s a decision that everyone goes out and stands. I think fining players for expressing what they believe is kind of overboard.”
Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall invoked the league’s go-to reasoning for much-debated discipline:
Brandon Marshall: "The reason we did this in the first place was to bring awareness to police brutality. That’s the reason why we took a knee. That was the symbol of what was going on.'' #9sports— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) May 24, 2018
Richard Sherman was diplomatic in his response to USA Today, suggesting NFL players will find new ways to make their voices heard, but also criticizing the way the new rule was implemented.
“There are still plenty of ways to use our voice and platform. But to try to quiet the voices in such a forceful way will be sure to have mixed reviews.”
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson thinks the policy is addressing the wrong issues, but vows his team will be united no matter what it decides.
Russell Wilson says NFL’s new anthem policy is emphasizing the wrong details over the more important issues of our society. Says whatever #Seahawks before games they will be united. @thenewstribune pic.twitter.com/zUIGmWjHO0— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) May 24, 2018
Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster, who plays alongside U.S. Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva and also serves as the team’s union rep, doesn’t expect the new rule to change much in Pittsburgh.
“Us personally, I feel like we’ll handle it like pros. It won’t be a situation for us. It’ll be work as usual for us. Other teams, we’ll see what happens. I’m sure when the summer break is on, everybody will voice their opinions and I’m sure it’ll be a highlight to opening day.
“Our thing is to just minimize the issue. We’re there to play a game. I know we have a platform in the sense that people look for us to be the voice of reason. But this one? What do you do? You risk losing your job, risk getting fined, risk making a livelihood for your family, or do you play the game? We’ll see.”
Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey is having difficulty reconciling the importance of the anthem on gamedays to its status in everyday life in America.
#Ravens CB @marlon_humphrey on anthem rule & Trump saying kneeling players shouldn’t play/maybe not even be in the US. Says he respects soldiers & their “fight for this country” but asked “why isn’t [the anthem] broadcasted every single day, you know, if it’s such a big deal?” pic.twitter.com/y8ssZpNKvs— Stephen Pimpo (@spimpojr) May 24, 2018
His coach, Jim Harbaugh, went on record to express his respect for the flag without actually saying anything substantial about the NFL’s new rule. It was a more-or-less typical response shared by several other league coaches, like the Bears’ Matt Nagy or the Colts’ Frank Reich.
Statement from Head Coach John Harbaugh. pic.twitter.com/1uRkoxn9h6— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) May 24, 2018
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer also avoided commenting specifically on the new rule, but did mention he was proud of his team for standing during the anthem last fall.
“I was proud of my team last year. They stood for the anthem. I think it’s important we stand for the anthem. I think it’s important we represent our country the right way. A lot of people have — I probably shouldn’t get on a tangent, right? — but a lot of people have died for that flag. That flag represents our country and what we stand for. And so, I think that’s important. I’ll stop there.”
And Pete Carroll agreed with his quarterback, stating anything the Seahawks did would be done as a team in 2018.
Pete Carroll says whatever Seahawks do in regards to anthem they will do as a team.— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) May 24, 2018
Owners, executives and other policymakers
The most noteworthy reaction from the athletes’ side may have come from the NFL Players Association, which expressed disappointment the owners’ decision was made without any input from their employees.
NFLPA Assistant Executive Director of External Affairs George Atallah also voiced his displeasure with the NFL’s procedure.
Maybe this new rule proposal that is being voted on is a "compromise" between the NFL office and club CEOs on various sides of the issue, but certainly not with player leadership; we weren't there or part of the discussions.— George Atallah (@GeorgeAtallah) May 23, 2018
Jets chairman Christopher Johnson, whose brother Woody was Trump’s pick to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, doesn’t agree with any rule that would limit his players’ right to free speech and offered to have the team pay any fines incurred in 2018.
“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules. If somebody (on the Jets) takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines.”
Raiders owner Mark Davis abstained from the vote that allows the league to penalize teams whose players take a knee, reportedly giving an “eloquent” speech on the importance of social issues in the process.
Also told that Mark Davis was one of the most eloquent speakers on the social justice issues—and that he abstained from the vote as well.— Seth Wickersham (@SethWickersham) May 24, 2018
Cardinals owner Michael Bidwell praised the new rule, suggesting it would allow the league to “put the focus back on the game, making sure all personnel on the field stand and honor the flag and the moment.”
Broncos CEO Joe Ellis, on the other hand, hedged his bets.
Meanwhile, Colts owner Jim Irsay gave an impressive non-answer on the matter.
“I, along with Colts players and employees, remain committed to utilizing our unique platform to address social issues and community ills in a positive manner. The NFL’s new anthem policy and corresponding statement reinforces that commitment and our patriotism should never be in doubt.”
And Bills owner Kim Pegula doesn’t foresee the rule change making much of a difference.
A statement from Bills Owner and President Kim Pegula. pic.twitter.com/ifBRsHzZNk— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) May 23, 2018
Several reporters, including Today Show co-host Craig Melvin, Sports Illustrated’s Robert Klemko, and veteran writer Jim Trotter says they’ve heard NFL players will use this rule as an opportunity to create new ways to peacefully protest.
“I talked to a former NFL player yesterday who has said that players are already talking about other ways in which they can protest.” @craigmelvin talks response to new NFL policy pic.twitter.com/opgMKznkUC— TODAY (@TODAYshow) May 24, 2018
What I'm hearing from players: Those who weren't planning demonstrations for next season are now back in the conversation, discussing ways to skirt to new rules "just to spite the NFL."— Robert Klemko (@RobertKlemko) May 23, 2018
While admittedly a small sample size, some players are telling me they’re *considering* staying in locker room or making a different on-field gesture simply b/c they feel this new policy is a direct challenge to them. Before today, they hadn’t thought about demonstrating in ‘18.— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) May 23, 2018
Unsurprisingly, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who have both been vocal critics of protests during the national anthem at NFL games, voiced support for the new rules. Trump suggested anyone kneeling for the Star-Spangled Banner has no place in the country:
President @realDonaldTrump: “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there, maybe you shouldn't be in the country." https://t.co/syjhxsoPzO @foxandfriends pic.twitter.com/60ai9J0GqH— Fox News (@FoxNews) May 24, 2018
While Pence threw it way back to 2011 with a Charlie Sheen meme that had been enjoying a peaceful death until Wednesday:
Steve Kerr, head coach of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, chalked the rule change up to the outspoken president and called it “fake patriotism.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr spoke out against the NFL’s new anthem policy pic.twitter.com/10P0Gb1iZO— SB Nation NFL (@SBNationNFL) May 24, 2018