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It’s a matter of fairness

Photo: Illustration by Emily O'Connell

Photo: Illustration by Emily O'Connell

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Some people would like you to believe that the NFL is an area free from judgment, where freedom of speech abounds. But it’s not, and it has never been. While standing during the National Anthem has never been a mandatory rule in the NFL, those who believe players have the unequivocal right to express themselves in any manner they choose ignore all of the other rules and regulations that restrict players’ freedom of expression. This disregard of league rules is ludicrous.

For example, the NFL shows public support for many charities such as Crucial Catch, NFL Green and Know Your Stats, yet when players show support for these very same causes, they are fined for breaking various uniform rules found in Rule 5 of the NFL Rulebook. In 2015, Pittsburgh Steelers player Deangelo Williams, a native Memphian, wore eyeblacks inscribed with the words “Find the Cure” during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and was consequently fined $5,787, according to ESPN. Another Steeler’s player, William Gay, was also fined $5,787 when he wore purple cleats in honor of his mother, who was shot and killed by her husband when Gay was only seven years old. By fining Williams and Gay, the NFL took a clearly defined stance on players supporting causes during nationally-televised games, so should the same rules not apply to those kneeling during the National Anthem?

The NFL’s inconsistent enforcement of rules does not end with supporting public causes. It also extends to their enforcement of uniform policy. Rule 5, Section 4, Article 1 of the NFL Rulebook states that players must wear either league-or club-issued attire or Nike-sponsored attire while representing the NFL or risk being fined. In 2013, former Washington Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffin III participated in warmups before a preseason game wearing an Adidas shirt. Despite Griffin’s Adidas sponsorship, the NFL fined him $10,000 because he broke their rule. In August of 2017, however, several Miami Dolphins players wore #IMWITHKAP, non-Nike-sponsored shirts, during warmups yet the NFL turned a blind eye. This behavior is rampant throughout the NFL, and shows how inconsistent they are when enforcing their rules.

Many Americans are upset over players’ protests, and they have started to make it clear. Viewings have tanked 8.2 percent from this time last year and 18.7 percent from this time two years ago, according to SportingNews.com. The NFL is losing money, fast. Suspiciously, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who once supported athletes’ right to protest, has reversed his position regarding the matter. Now, he wishes no players would kneel during the anthem to keep the league out of politics. Goodell is just saying what he believes people want to hear in attempt to save his business, at the cost of losing his integrity. Like Goodell, owners have also begun to get antsy. On Oct. 8, the owner of the Miami Dolphins required his players to stand for the anthem, while Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, said that any player who is disrespectful to the flag won’t play.

Later that day, Vice President Mike Pence attended an Indianapolis Colts game but left after players knelt during the National Anthem.

“I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS (Trump) and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem,” Pence tweeted. However, upon his exit, he was lambasted by the same people who praised the players for their freedom of expression. They attacked him with insults and claimed it was a stunt, though the very real possibility was that he was simply standing up for something he believes in, not unlike the kneelers those people venerate for “taking a stand.” Can they just not see their own inconsistency?

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