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Are new NFL penalties for kneeling purely about the bottom line?

NFL owners voted for a new policy on Wednesday that requires any players or team personnel who are on the field to "stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem." The silent protests are meant to call attention to police brutality and racial inequality, but have drawn months of public criticism by President Trump. Amna Nawaz gets reaction from LZ Granderson of ESPN's SportsNation.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    After two seasons of protests during the national anthem, and a debate that's been fueled by President Trump, the NFL took a stand today against taking a knee on the field.

    Amna Nawaz looks at the reaction and what may be behind the decision.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, some players began taking a knee to call attention to police brutality and racial inequality in America. The silent protest began with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has yet to be signed by an NFL team since the season before last.

    Today, NFL owners voted for a new policy requiring any players or team personnel who are on the field to, "Stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem."

    Players who don't wish to do so can stay in the locker room during the national anthem. But if they choose to kneel or sit on the field, their teams will be fined, and the teams can then penalize their players.

    The policy comes after months of public criticism of players who kneel from President Trump.

    Here's how NFL commissioner Roger Goodell explained the changes today.

  • Roger Goodell:

    Clearly, our objective as a league and to all 32 clubs, which was unanimous, is that we want people to be respectful to the national anthem. We want people to stand.

    We think that we have come up with a balanced process here and a procedure and policy that will allow those players who feel that they can't stand for the anthem to stay in the locker room. And there's no penalty for that. But we are going to encourage all of them to be on the field, we'd like for them all to be on the field, and stand at attention.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The NFL Players Union said it wasn't consulted by the owners about the new policy, and called it contradictory to the, "Principles, values and patriotism of our league."

    We asked the union to appear tonight, as well as several players. They declined our invitation, as did the NFL.

    Some perspective now on this from L.Z. Granderson, who is a co-host for ESPN's "SportsNation" and a political commentator for CNN.

    L.Z., thanks for being here.

    Let me ask you now about the timeline. Colin Kaepernick first took a knee in 2016. President Trump first started criticizing the protests in 2017. Why now, in May of 2018, are the NFL owners and the league taking this decision?

  • L.Z. Granderson:

    Because they believe there is some correlation between the criticism of Colin Kaepernick and the protesting and their bottom line.

    The NFL is still the juggernaut when it comes to American sports, both financially and as well in terms of visibility, but it has dipped a little bit. And owners feel that the protests isn't helping them from a business perspective, never mind the fact that the NFL was already dipping prior to the protests.

    This allows them to point all of the issues that the league has been having with fans on this one particular player and this one particular issue.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    L.Z., we know the owners have been concerned about the attacks from President Trump as well. Was this a political decision or purely a business one?

  • L.Z. Granderson:

    I believe it is purely business.

    These owners are — many of them are multibillionaires. And most of their motives are financially driven. Many of them give donations to both parties. Many of them have supported candidates of both parties. And so they aren't necessarily being married to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. But they definitely seem to be married to money.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    L.Z., let me ask you. Now, there are folks out there who will say, we're not saying that the issues that the players want addressed here aren't worth addressing, we're glad the owners met with players privately, we're glad they agreed to donate tens of millions of dollars to those causes, we just don't want politics on the field.

    What do you say to those folks?

  • L.Z. Granderson:

    Stop playing the national anthem. It's that simple.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's as simple as that?

  • L.Z. Granderson:

    The national anthem is politicizing sports.

    And, oh, by the way, if you really are concerned about respecting or disrespecting the flag, then perhaps you should probably refamiliarize yourself with the U.S. flag code, because you will see multiple violations that the NFL and other leagues, as a matter of fact, do in terms of how the flag is to be treated.

    We aren't supposed to be having football uniforms with flags on them. We aren't supposed to be having a flag laid down flat. We aren't supposed to be having the flag on tickets or on beer cans and things of that nature, all these things that you can find in an NFL stadium.

    So if you really want to stick to the rule of law about disrespecting the flag, then let's be authentic with it. I tend to think it's more about what the players are protesting than the actual protest itself.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, L.Z., what would have been a better solution or better step, in your mind, for the owners and the league to take?

  • L.Z. Granderson:

    Be honest.

    You know, stop trying to pretend as if you truly do care about the issues that the players are protesting, and tell the truth, that we believe these protests are hurting our bottom line, we're a business, we're a private business, and so we're making a business policy to help make sure our bottom line doesn't suffer anymore.

    But certainly don't tell us that you're doing this out of some respect for the flag, or that you're doing this, but we still support what the players are concerned with, because you don't issue a ban like this in the same week that we're bracing ourselves to see video of an NBA player being tased in Milwaukee, reportedly for no reason.

    Those two things — just doesn't seem to add up to me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    L.Z., it's hard to see that the tensions will go down from this. We already have seen Vice President Pence weigh in on Twitter with the hashtag #winning and a headline about this decision.

    We have also seen players start to weigh in, Chris Long among them, saying he will continue to use his platform to call attention to the things he thinks is important.

    Look, the preseason starts this summer. Do you think players are going to protest? What do you think the fallout from this is going to be?

  • L.Z. Granderson:

    Well, Amna, there's two fundamental flaws in this new policy.

    Number one, there's no clear definition of what it means to violate or disrespect the flag. But number two is that there's an option for a player not to actually come to the field during the national anthem.

    Now, if you are a reporter looking on the sideline and you happen to notice that several players are missing, you're still going to ask the same very questions that were being asked the past two seasons about, why aren't you there, why are you protesting? And the issue doesn't go away.

    This is the reason the NFL owners' cowardice sort of bites them in the butt, if you will, because they didn't solve the problem. They just made a bigger problem.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    L.Z. Granderson, thanks for your time.

  • L.Z. Granderson:

    Thank you for having me.

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