Bock’s Score: The NFL Sends Mixed Messages On The National Anthem

After two days of intensive, high level meetings, NFL owners decided last week to offer a definitive solution to the problem of players taking a knee or otherwise demonstrating during the National Anthem.

From now on, the league wants players to stand during the Anthem. But they will not be required to do so.


This sounds like the philosopher who, when presented with a difficult dilemma, solved it by saying, “I feel strongly both ways.’’

So, we will continue to have players kneeling and players linking arms and a president complaining about the athletes invoking their First Amendment rights.

Lost in the confusion is that the original reason for the protest had nothing to do with the flag or the little ditty Francis Scott Key scribbled on the back of an envelope during the War of 1812. Colin Kaepernick’s complaint had to do with social injustice in America, a condition that existed when he first took a knee last year and still exists today. The only difference is that Kaepernick can’t find a job and a fistful of other players have joined the protest.

This is annoying President Donald Trump no end. First he recommended firing the players who took a knee. Then he complained that the new rules to protect players was making the game too soft. Then he took his fight with the NFL a step further, ordering vice president Michael Pence to stage a walkout from a game in Indianapolis as soon as the players dared to demonstrate. This bit of political grandstanding required Pence to fly from Nevada to Indiana and then back to California at considerable expense to taxpayers. It also required Pence to miss a halftime ceremony dedicating a statue to honor longtime Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

That’ll show them.

Here we are exchanging insults and threatening a nuclear showdown   in North Korea, trying to figure out health care in America, getting brave soldiers ambushed and killed in Africa, trying to cobble together a tax cut bill,  worried about the terrorists in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and everywhere else.

And the president has the NFL on his mind?


There is some history here. Back when the president was a young real estate hotshot in New York, he was fascinated by football and wanted a piece of the action. When the NFL owners told him to take a hike, he did the next best thing, buying his way into a new venture, the USFL.

The new league would play in the springtime, avoiding any conflict with the NFL. Trump, however, was spoiling for a fight and convinced the fledgling league to go to the fall, right in the face of the NFL. Trump’s  scheme was for the NFL to end the showdown by merging with the USFL and absorb some teams, maybe even Trump’s New Jersey Generals. This did not happen. The USFL filed anti-trust charges and sued. The new league won and was granted $1 in damages. Trebled, that amounted to $3 and one NFL functionary offered to pay the damages out of his pocket.

Trump went away for a while but then, in 2014, he popped up again, this time trying to buy his way into the NFL by purchasing the Buffalo Bills. He is believed to have offered $1 billion, about $200,000 less than the final sale price. Sorry.

This would ordinary be three strikes and you’re out for Trump and football. The president, however, does not suffer rejection kindly. So he continues to obsess about the NFL and attack it whenever he can.

For its part, the league shrugs it off complaints from the White House and continues to go about its business, the players taking a knee when they want to and the owners listening to their cash registers continue to jingle, Donald Trump notwithstanding.

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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