While reading USA Today today, I noticed an article reporting on five St. Louis Ram players doing a pre-game protest against the Ferguson incident. As the players came out of the stadium tunnel, they raised their hands into a “Hands Up. Don’t Shoot!” pose. The protest upset the St. Louis Police Officers Association into demanding that the NFL punish the players. Inexplicably, though, the NFL meekly decided to do nothing other than respond as follows in an email:
- “We respect and understand the concerns of all individuals who have expressed views on this tragic situation.”
What a disgrace!
What a pusillanimous wimp the NFL has become! Its handling of the Ray Rice incident – first trying to downplay it with a two-game suspension, but then increasing the suspension to a lifetime ban after a video went viral – was recently rejected by an arbitrator as capricious and arbitrary.
Talk about a lynching! The NFL’s handling of Adrian Peterson’s child-abuse incident was similarly ham-handled. By contrast, the legal system handled both incidents reasonably, with the Rice matter granted deferred adjudication and the Peterson matter resulting in a misdemeanor plea.
So why should the NFL take action against the St. Louis five? While listening to Mike & Mike (and Adam Schefter) this morning and then First Take’s Stephen A. and Skip later in the morning, I learned that they were in complete agreement that these players were merely exercising their constitutional right to free speech and should be commended for showing some social consciousness that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods seemed to lack.
Their monolithic position caused me to start talking to at my TV screens during these shows, wanting any of these talk-show people to ask whether NFL players are free to stake out other political positions on Sunday. The answer to that question is so obviously “no,” that I can’t understand why these talking heads failed to see the inconsistency. Hell, players can’t even use non-approved headphones when they walk into the building. On game day, the NFL owns the players; there is no free political or commercial speech.
When I search the internet to see if anyone else was taking up this argument, and there was deafening silence. ESPN didn’t even have an article mentioning the protest. Finally, however, I was able to find a single media source calling out the NFL. According to Newsday:
- Rule 5, Section 4, Article 7 of the NFL rulebook states “throughout the period on game-day that a player is visible to the stadium and television audience (including in pregame warm-ups, in the bench area, and during postgame interviews in the locker room or on the field), players are prohibited from wearing, displaying, or otherwise conveying personal messages either in writing or illustration, unless such message has been approved in advance by the League office.
- The League will not grant permission for any club or player to wear, display, or otherwise convey messages, through helmet decals, arm bands, jersey patches, or other items affixed to game uniforms or equipment, which relate to political activities or causes, other non-football events, causes or campaigns, or charitable causes or campaigns.”
Newsday reported that one of the protesting players had arm wraps that read “Mike Brown” and “My kids matter” written on them. I will be shocked if there is not any other verbiage in the rules that allows the NFL to punish the players. What if some white players want to do something to show their support for the SLPOA?
The NFL’s current position regarding this protest seems untenable, and it makes me wonder for the first time if Roger Goodell is not up to the job.