49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold (58), quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) and safety Eric Reid (35) kneel in protest during the national anthem before a game in 2016.

Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

Bernstein: NFL Owners Choose To Fuel Anthem Protest Fire

Their attempt at policy is draconian overreach.

Dan Bernstein
May 23, 2018 - 1:41 pm

By Dan Bernstein--
670TheScore.com senior columnist

(670 The Score) All they had to do was leave it all alone. The NFL had moved to appease and appear to understand its socially conscious players by hosting meetings, preparing joint statements, creating blue-ribbon special committees and declaring their cooperation in efforts toward justice and reform.

Then the owners sat in a room Wednesday and decided almost unanimously to blow it all up, reigniting a war with the union and all but daring players to protest inequality in new, more creative and impactful ways.

Their attempt at policy is draconian overreach, clearly designed to buy off whatever combination of corporate partners, large-scale sponsors and political influencers needed to be assured that the uppity rank and file could be controlled forcefully to stay on message and quell any discomfort.  Texans owner Bob McNair once said, "We can't have the inmates running the prison," and now warden Roger Goodell has spoken.

The commissioner disingenuously bragged of the league's desire to advance the goals of the protesting players as a preamble to telling them to knock it off.  Still perpetuating the falsehood that peaceful demonstration is somehow inherently insulting to a national symbol, they imposed unilateral guidelines that demand players "stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem." Any player incapable or unwilling to accede to that demand can stay in the locker room, and discipline for violations will be meted out.

The NFLPA clapped back almost immediately, issuing a fiery statement that decried the move, alleging that it "contradicts the statements made to our player leadership ... about the principles, values, and patriotism of our league."

"Our union will review the new 'policy' and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement," the NFLPA said.

And here we go with a completely avoidable and unnecessary escalation of a fight that has resulted more in willfully ignorant and reductive tribal roaring than constructive attention to real problems facing real Americans and the role a powerful sports organization can play in making a positive difference.

There was no player involvement whatsoever in the construction of the new rules, despite the league describing this as a compromise. The message from the owners to the union is clear: We listened to what you said about all that injustice stuff, nodded enough, threw a little money at pretending to care about it and told everyone. Now get back to shutting up and bashing in your brains. Oh, and we will continue to want to employ violent assailants of all kinds, domestic and otherwise.

This won't work, at least not as they seem to have tried to foresee. Already, 49ers CEO Jed York and Jets chairman Christopher Johnson are pledging that their respective team policies would allow for continued protests, with Johnson going so far as to commit organizational money to pay players' league fines. The union will likely file a fair-labor grievance that could result in changes to ensure it indeed conforms properly to the CBA.

The billionaire cowards in charge of the NFL have again shown how nervous they have become in their current environment. Under siege on multiple fronts and facing genuine concerns about the near and distant future of their newly vulnerable business model, their first instinct is to make sure the meanest and dumbest portion of their economic base is temporarily less unhappy.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.​​