Arguably one of the biggest and surely the most politicized story of the NFL's 2017 season was players taking a knee during the National Anthem. Originally started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a stand against police brutality and the oppression of “black people and people of color,” the protests were reignited as a sign of unity and solidarity following divisive comments made by President Donald Trump.
While the noise surrounding the protests died down a bit over the months that followed, NFL ownership (and Trump) felt like the issue had not been properly addressed just yet. The league, therefore, passed a new rule last week regulating pre-game conduct: Players on the field now have to stand during the Star-Spangled Banner, while those who feel the need to protest have to remain in the locker room until after the anthem is played.
This solution has been criticized by the NFLPA and the players themselves are also vocal when it comes to the topic. New England Patriots team captain Devin McCourty, one of those protesting after Trump's comments last September, voiced his displeasure yesterday when he addressed reporters following practice (quotes via NESN's Doug Kyed): “This is dumb,” the veteran defender said when asked how he felt about the new policy.
“I wouldn’t say that was a compromise,” McCourty continued. “I would go out there and say not many players are happy or feel that’s the right way to do it.” Naturally, this displeasure could lead to a new wave of protests. And while the Patriots themselves have not yet discussed any response to the rule change according to McCourty, he knows that players might take action to protest the NFL's new approach to the anthem.
“Any time something happens like that and people don’t agree with that, I don’t think... you can take everything else out of it, protests and reasons, some people might just say 'I don’t like the rule, so I want to do something to go against the rule,'” said the 30-year old defensive back. “I knew that was a possibility as soon as I heard the rule. Like, this is silly.”
How potential protests would look like is up in the air but kneeling during the anthem appears to be off the table for now. One way to still raise the voice could be for the entire team to stay in the locker room – a theme consistent with the Patriots' franchise history: New England, prior to its first Super Bowl win after the 2001 season, opted to be “introduced as a team” when entering the field prior to the game.
Back then, teams were still in the locker rooms when the anthem was played. The policy remained that way up until 2009, when the league opted to change it and have players on the field as part of a public display of unified patriotism. If it was up to McCourty, however, the rules would be altered again and look like they did prior to the 2009 season.
At the end of the day, McCourty remains disappointed at how the new rules were implemented during the league's ownership meeting in late May: “I just don’t think that was the right way to lay the hammer down,” he said. “I think the NFL is a group where you have owners and players, but it can work together. We’ll see how that works out and plays itself out.”