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NFL Freezes New Anthem Policy Weeks Before Preseason Begins

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In what some are calling yet another misstep in its handling of the ongoing anthem kneeling debate, the NFL has worked with the Player’s Union to temporarily put a freeze on the previously agreed-upon policy to fine teams whose players kneel.

After a season in which protesting players angered fans, who then “boycotted” the NFL, leading to disappointing TV ratings, lower game attendance, and the potential for lost income for the league, the NFL worked in the off-season to come up with what it saw as an equitable solution. When it was announced, most people involved were underwhelmed.

The league announced that players were free not to be on the field during the anthem, however, those that were on the sideline would be required to stand, rather than kneel. Players that chose to kneel would result in their teams being fined, while teams would be left to decide what to do about kneelers.

Some teams, like the NY Jets, came out in full-throated support of players who chose to protest. Others, like the Miami Dolphins, threatened still consequences, including game suspensions, if their players chose to kneel.

As all of these headlines were written, fans were left wondering where they stood on the issue leading into the NFL season, and the league was certainly curious as well. While the NFL is still a ratings powerhouse and a proverbial money machine, there was some disappointing trends last season, and it’s clear the league would love to put this issue behind them. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

Here we are, just a few short weeks from the beginning of the pre-season, and the NFL and PA have released joint statement which says, in part:

“The NFL and NFLPA, through recent discussions, have been working on a resolution to the anthem issue. In order to allow this constructive dialogue to continue, we have come to a standstill agreement on the NFLPA’s grievance and on the NFL’s anthem policy. No new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks while these confidential discussions are ongoing…”

This so-called “freeze” on penalties will not sit well with fans on either side of the issue. Fans who support the protests as free speech want to see any potential for penalties done away with. Fans who believe the players are there to play the game, not share their political views, are upset that this discussion is even happening. They see it as cut-and-dried: they are not allowed to protest at their jobs, so why are NFL players?

Fans with that perspective are not likely to view this “freeze” as anything but a stalling tactic, and they are certainly not going to return their allegiance to the NFL while this issue continues to be discussed.

In an effort to connect with at least some of these disaffected fans, the league issued this statement: “The NFL and NFLPA reflect the great values of America, which are repeatedly demonstrated by the many players doing extraordinary work in communities across our country…”

Player advocates and the league tried this messaging last season, and it didn’t work. Going back to that well seems more likely to aggravate disaffected fans rather than mollify them.

5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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