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The NFL's new rule against kneeling during the anthem shows the owners' willingness to grovel

The league that wraps itself in the flag but doesn't honor the First Amendment is demonstrating its true colors.
Image: Members of the Tennessee Titans kneel at the end zone
Members of the Tennessee Titans kneel at the end zone before their game in Nashville on Sept. 24, 2017, after the team remained in the locker room during the national anthem.Rick Musacchio / EPA

On Wednesday, the NFL — in all its buffoonish, antebellum "wisdom" — decided that a league built on a foundation of disposable black bodies needed to officially silence those black players who dared speak up against injustice.

The NFL’s action — its owners voted that all players on the field must stand for the anthem, and that those who don’t want to stand can wait inside the locker room until the anthem is done — is an undeniably clear response to the kneeling protests, led by Colin Kaepernick.

Worse, it is fundamentally un-American.

For a league that loves to drape itself in the nationalistic fervor of the flag, with constant military fighter jet fly-overs and "Salute to Service" days marking its calendar, the NFL — and to be more specific, the team owners — appear to have forgotten what that flag actually means.

Image: Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem
San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick, center, Eli Harold and Eric Reid take a knee during the national anthem before their NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys in Santa Clara, California, on Oct. 2, 2016.John G Mabanglo / EPA

The American flag, our flag, is the symbol of the dispossessed; the huddled masses, yearning to be free; the plucky immigrant making it against all expectations; the beaten and weary, offered shelter and succor at last.

The American flag represents the knowledge that you, as a citizen, have every right to protest against your government when you feel it has wronged you, and to expect that wrong to be righted. It is what our military bleeds and dies for. It is emblematic of our right to not be forced to stand and salute, to not have to worship at the altar of blind nationalism, to not be shot dead in the street for the crime of having black skin.

And if that flag — our flag — no longer represents the freedom and justice for which we’ve fought so hard over the years to maintain and expand, it is entirely American to say so. It is the fundamental purpose of the American experiment to draw attention to an egregious breach of the social contract. It is quintessentially American to point out that black Americans pay their taxes, vote in elections and send their children off to fight and die in foreign lands, all with the expectation of not being gunned down in their own homeland.

Yet, somewhere along the way, the NFL owners lost sight of this bedrock truth.

Their small-minded fears are not something we should ever aspire to or accept.

Instead of upholding every citizen’s right to kneel, the owners showed their bellies to the orange-hued occupant of the Oval Office and his sycophantic enablers, praying that their prostration would keep the money flowing. Instead of standing up for what's right, they chose to snivel at the feet of a petty tyrant.

The owners of the NFL are cowards.

It is long past time for us to stop catering to the intolerant and bigotedmin this country, who are more than happy to call their favorite player’s name on Sunday and then call the cops on him on Monday. The owners view these fanatics as having something important to contribute, but their hateful dollars do not excuse their disdain for human rights. Their small-minded fears are not something we should ever aspire to or accept. Bullying is not, and never should be, a public virtue.

Image: Some members of the Cleveland Browns team kneel during the National Anthem
Some members of the Cleveland Browns team kneel during the National Anthem before the start of their game against the Indianapolis Colts in Indianapolis, on Sept. 24, 2017.Thomas J. Russo / Reuters file

Furthermore, by kowtowing to the president’s demands, the NFL owners have made it perfectly clear that they view the First Amendment — one of the cornerstones of America — as just a series of words on some old sheet of paper. They’ve been quite clear in their internal communications that supplicating Trump is the driving force behind shutting down the protest started by Kaepernick. But with all the debate about “freedom of speech” when the government isn't impinging on that speech, it is an obvious infringement upon the freedom of speech when the president of the United States says that someone should not have a job due to his political stance, that person then loses his job and the very avenue of speech is shut down by an employer.

Standing up to authoritarians used to be the duty of every American. Time will tell if it remains so, but I don’t hold out much hope for this current crop of billionaires.

This situation is a case in point: When the NFL owners, these builders of boondoggle stadiums siphoning public money away from our education and public infrastructure, finally had a chance to do the right thing — the American thing — they chose not to. They could have stood up to a bully, looked him square in the eye and said, No. The America you want — a nation of fear and hate and unchecked greed dragging all of us deeper into the muck every day — is not what we’re willing to embrace. The America we believe in is one where every citizen has a voice, no matter what their job, and political pressure cannot take that voice or job away. That is the America we stand for. That is the America we’ll let our players take a knee for.

The owners had a chance to stand for the right to kneel. Instead, they decided to grovel in the hopes of making another buck.

Chris Kluwe played in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings for eight years, during which he set numerous team records. He is a published author, game designer, and stay-at-home dad. You can find him being Not-Mad Online at @ChrisWarcraft.