Freedom of expression? Surely you jest.

© 2018 Jim Spence - The NFL is playing preseason games already and will be ready for the 2018 regular season early next month. Some observers are predicting that season ticket sales have plummeted in the wake of the way the league accommodates offensive behavior during the playing of the national anthem. We shall see.
The vast majority of business owners would fire any employee who intentionally offended paying customers in the way some NFL players do. And there is no question that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is a bald-faced liar when he claims the league wants to insure players have their "freedom of expression."
The NFL has strict rules against freedom of expression on the job. Here is the league’s national anthem rule verbatim:
“The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem. During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should ensure that the American flag is in good condition. … It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and out country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.”
Don't kid yourself, the league is making choices and the league’s choices are glaringly inconsistent. The NFL has chosen not to ENFORCE its own rule (in bold above) regarding the national anthem. The NFL's claim that it supports freedom of expression, even while the players are working is a crock. The league has the same sort of explicit rules regarding uniforms, shoes, eye black, sweat bands, etc. While the NFL makes a conscious choice to ignore its rules when players expressing their disdain for the national anthem, the American flag, or whatever it is they are actually expressing, Goodell and company are real sticklers on other forms of expression. Below are some examples of what the league has done in choosing to enforce its rules AGAINST freedom of expression:

  1. In 2012, the NFL objected to Tim Tebow’s wearing of letters designating a bible verse (John 3:16) as part of his blackout to avoid glare and ordered him to remove the letters.
  2. In 2013, the NFL fined wide receiver Brandon Marshall for wearing green cleats to raise awareness for people with mental health disorders. 
  3. In 2014, Robert Griffin III (RG3) entered a post-game press conference wearing a shirt that said: “Know Jesus Know Peace,” but the NFL’s “rules against freedom of expression” forced Griffin to retreat and turn the t-shirt inside out before speaking at the podium.
  4. In 2015, DeAngelo Williams was fined by the league for wearing “Find the Cure” eye black for breast cancer awareness.
  5. In 2015, the NFL’s William Gay was fined for wearing purple cleats to raise awareness for domestic violence.
  6. In 2016, the NFL prevented the Dallas Cowboys from wearing a decal on their helmet in honor of 5 Dallas Police officers killed in the line of duty.
  7. In 2016, the NFL threatened to fine all players who wore cleats to commemorate the 15th anniversary of 9/11.
There is no question that the NFL is lying when it claims it respects freedom of expression. The NFL also lies when it says it enforces its rules. The NFL does not respect freedom of expression and it only enforces its own rules selectively. The basis for the choices the league makes in being inconsistent is troubling. If players express disrespect for the national anthem and the American flag the NFL does not enforce its rule and cites freedom of expression as the reason. However, when players or entire teams try to "express" respect for murdered police officers, or efforts to find cures for cancers, they are threatened and fined. Now that is some strange value system.
In a few weeks we are going to see if the NFL is still the sort of business Americans will patronize given the bald-faced lies it tells and dubious value system it embraces.
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