A day after the NFL approved a revised national anthem policy, fans from Long Island and beyond remained divided on a polarizing issue that has spilled from the field to the political and social spheres.
The league’s new policy requires players on the field to stand during the anthem or risk having their teams fined if they choose to protest during the song. Players who do not wish to participate in the anthem ceremony can remain in the locker room, with no penalty to the team.
“The NFL is falling apart,” said Andrew McClure, 53, of East Rockaway. “Patriotism and love of country are among the few things that our divided nation generally agrees upon. The league is incapable of going full throttle on issues — allowing players to stay in the locker room during the anthem and then emerge is creating more attention and division . . . I agree with the need to speak out against perceived wrongs, but this protest angers the audience and it’s ineffective.”
Anthem protests began in 2016, as a way to speak out against racial injustice and social inequality in the United States. Some say it’s disrespectful to the country, and an affront to the military, while others believe this form of protest is a proper exercise of the first amendment right to free speech, and integral to democracy.
“It’s a form of censorship,” said David Horowitz, 39, of Long Beach, a Giants fan. “While I do believe in standing for the national anthem, we’re granted a right to free speech in the constitution. By forcing the players to stand or stay in the locker room, they’re in some ways violating that right. . . . When they first started [protesting], it had nothing to do with the national anthem whatsoever. It had to do with black kids getting killed, [so it needs to] turn into . . . instead of this issue of being American or un-American or not patriotic, it needs to foster dialogue between these communities that feel they’re getting snubbed and this demographic this movement started for.”
The NFL Players Association has already criticized the policy, while a number of NFL players have said on Twitter and other social media platforms that they either won’t agree, or won’t adhere.
Herb Hesse, 56, of Holbrook, said that the protests are disrespectful and have caused him to turn away from the NFL.
“I think it’s late in coming,” Hesse said of the new policy. “They get paid to play a game, and they get paid a lot. Does that entitle them to stage a public opinion at the expense of the men and women who gave them the right to play the game?”
Hesse pointed to former Met Carlos Delgado who, as a Blue Jay in 2004, stayed in the dugout when “God Bless America” was being played. Delgado was protesting against the war in Iraq.
“He was out of sight,” said Hesse, adding that it was a respectful protest.
Now, he said, the NFL will continue to suffer.
“It’s all about [getting people] in seats,” Hesse said. “This [past] season was the first time seeing any NFL game and seeing empty seats.”
As for if the new rule will lead to his return to regular NFL viewership, Hesse said: “I can only answer that with, I was a Jets fan.”
Jonathan Grindell, a Five Towns native who’s since moved to Seattle, is also critical of the NFL’s new policy. And he, too, now has a waning interest in the NFL.
“These are billionaire white owners who are scared of players being united,” he said. “I’ve lost interest in the NFL because of the lack of concern for head injuries, and this rule will only add fuel to the fire because it’s not letting players use their head to express themselves.”