Signs point to NFL potentially telling players to stand

The NFL hasn’t specifically said that it plans to consider revising the rule that makes standing for the anthem optional, but all signs point to the league taking up the possibility — and quite possibly changing the rule to require standing. Although NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart didn’t say during a Tuesday media briefing that the league definitely will be considering a potential revision to the provision of the game operations manual that says players “should” (not “must”) stand, a discussion/debate over whether to make standing mandatory is possible if not likely, especially in light of recent comments from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

Based on the Tuesday memo from the Commissioner to all teams, which was published not leaked by the league office (which means they wanted the media and fans to see it), it’s fair to wonder whether the outcome will be the implementation of a rule that requires standing. The reference in the memo to an “in-season platform to promote the work of our players” on “core issues” regarding their communities coupled with the declaration that “we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem” suggests that the league, through the authority vested in its $40 million-per-year pin cushion, will be telling the players, “Here’s a vehicle for giving attention to the causes that are important to you. Now, you will stand for the anthem.”

This could spark a legal battle with the union over whether that change can be made without submitting the issue to the tit-for-tat of collective bargaining. From the league’s perspective, so what? Like other instances of going too far and then forcing the NFLPA to push back via the court system, the league would be able to tell the President and anyone else who has a problem with kneeling for the anthem that the league has done everything it can to force the players to stand. If, ultimately, a court blocks the NFL from forcing players to stand, the outcome came be blamed on “activist, unelected judges” who don’t properly respect nation, flag, and country.

Along the way, the NFLPA and the players will potentially become the villains, from the perspective of the President and those who refuse to accept that kneeling or sitting for the anthem is ever anything but disrespectful. The NFL and its owners will emerge with clean hands, and the NFL and the owners ultimately need to be concerned about that because the players will come and go but the owners will always hold the equity in the league.

Could it get ugly if the owners ultimately secure the ability to force players to stand, at the risk of being kept from playing? Sure. But as we’ve learned through multiple strikes and a lockout, players want to play. If the NFL successfully adopts a rule requiring players to stand for the anthem with the consequence being that they won’t play and they won’t get paid if they don’t, they’re going to stand for the anthem.

The only remaining question may be whether the NFL legally can pull it off. For now, it’s looking possible if not probable that they’ll at least try.