Over Two Dozen Civil Rights Groups Speak Out Against The NFL's National Anthem Rules

"There is no better way to honor our national symbols."

The NFL's new rule requiring players to stand during the national anthem has angered many since it was first announced last month. This week, more than two dozen civil rights organizations have come together to show their support for those who choose to protest, and they're urging the league to reconsider its decision.

Earlier this week, 28 leaders from groups such as the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the NAACP, and the Center for Constitutional Rights, signed a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expressing their objection to the "coercive" policy.


The letter reiterates the reason many players have chosen to sit or kneel during the anthem — to protest police brutality and racial injustice in the United States. The NFL's new rules allow them to remain in the locker room during the anthem, but teams could face fines if players choose not to stand while on the field. 

"This policy represses peaceful, non-disruptive protest of police violence against unarmed African Americans and other people of color," the letter reads. "It is disappointing that a league built on grit and competition lacks the constitution to stomach a call for basic equality and fairness."

Unfortunately, the real-life inequality that players are protesting has frequently been ignored by many who instead accuse protesters of "disrespecting" the flag. As Howard Bryant wrote for The Guardian this week, "Focusing on the anthem allows the majority to ignore a reality — a policeman kicking the hell out of a family member for pure sadistic enjoyment — that is unthinkable to them and reposition unrest through the lens of the very familiar: the flag and the police as unequivocal, uncomplicated ally."

The organizations' letter includes statistics regarding not only the issues of police violence that players are protesting but also the racial inequality within the league itself. The groups cite a report that found that, although 70 percent of players are Black, 75 percent of the NFL's head coaches and 100 percent of team CEOs and presidents are White men.

"Athletes who choose to kneel during the national anthem to peacefully protest police violence embody the best patriotic ideals of our nation," the letter continues, calling out President Donald Trump's criticism of players who do not stand. "Protesters striving to create a more inclusive democracy define the history of this country; there is no better way to honor our national symbols than to fight for equal justice for all."

"Compelling players to stand for the national anthem erodes the values that the flag represents and tells the world that the NFL does not care about racial justice. We urge you to reconsider your position," the letter concludes. 

According to USA Today, the groups have also asked to meet with Goodell about the issue in the coming weeks, as Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said the policy puts the NFL "on the wrong side of history."

The new rules stand out among the major sports leagues, with ESPN reporting that there are "few official requirements" for national anthem behavior among groups such as the NBA, MLB, and NHL. Meanwhile, Vox has noted that the NFL's failure to consult the players union before adopting the policy is "flatly illegal."

It's unclear whether this week's letter will have an effect on the NFL's rules, but the gesture is a significant show of solidarity for players who choose to protest.

(H/T: SB Nation)

Cover image: zoff / Shutterstock.com


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