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NFL does right thing in tabling Dolphins', league's restrictions on protests during anthem

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 7/19/2018 Nancy Armour

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Finally, sanity prevails in the NFL.

Recognizing that it was on the verge of an epic PR crisis, maybe even a mutiny, the league did what it should have done long ago: Put all dictates about the national anthem on hold and agree to work with the players' union on a policy.

“The NFL and NFLPA reflect the great values of America, which are repeatedly demonstrated by the many players doing extraordinary work in communities across our country to promote equality, fairness and justice,” the two said Thursday night in a rare joint statement.

The stand down came hours after The Associated Press reported that the Miami Dolphins had included protesting during the national anthem on its list of “conduct detrimental to the team.” Under NFL rules, that could draw up to a four-game suspension.

The Dolphins were quick to say that “all options are still open,” but not before many had pointed out just how out of whack their views of right and wrong were. Jameis Winston will sit out only three games for groping an Uber driver. Ray Rice initially got two games for knocking his then-fiancée out cold in an elevator.

But having the audacity to try and raise awareness on racial and economic inequality in this country? That's such a heinous offense that a player could miss a quarter of the season.

In truth, the Dolphins did the league a favor by forcing it to rethink what had been a solution in search of a problem.

The NFL agreed late last season to devote significant money to social justice issues and provide The Players Coalition with a platform to showcase and promote their efforts. As a result, many of the players said they would no longer protest.

“That was a vehicle that we used to draw attention,” New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty, who has emerged as one of the Coalition’s visible leaders, told USA TODAY Sports in March. “But doing some type of protest on the field every week is not going to stop an unarmed black kid from getting killed, or fix a criminal justice system in another state.”

Indeed, the protests had all but disappeared by the end of the season.

But NFL owners were so petrified that President Donald Trump would use the player protests to rile up his base ahead of the midterm elections that they announced in May that they’d come up with a “compromise.”

More like a capitulation.

Players would be allowed to stay in the locker room during the anthem but, if they were on the field, they would be required to stand. Teams would be fined if there were any on-field protests. It was clear immediately that this was going to be an unworkable solution, with New York Jets acting owner Christopher Johnson saying he’d take the fines if any of his players wanted to protest.

It also didn’t appease Trump, who not only criticized the new policy, but suggested that protesting players “maybe … shouldn’t be in the country.” A real Unifier in Chief, that one.

The truth is, nothing the NFL does will ever be good enough for Trump because he knows his race-baiting and hate-mongering appeals to his base, and he’s desperate to keep them engaged. He will continue twisting heartfelt, respectful pleas for equality into disrespect for the flag, anthem, military, police, apple pie and anything else that crosses his mind that day as long as it continues to work.

Here’s the thing, though: It’s not.

Maybe the players’ message is finally being heard above the din. Maybe the seemingly daily videos of black people being harassed by police, a neighbor or a business for doing nothing other than being black are making Americans realize how far we have to go.

Whatever the reason, a recent poll found that most Americans don’t object to the protests. Yes, you read that right.

A survey published June 7 by Quinnipiac University found that 53 percent of American voters believe professional athletes have the right to protest on the field or court. And 58 percent said they did not consider NFL players who protest during the anthem unpatriotic.

The poll also found that voters were opposed, 51 to 44 percent, to the NFL fining teams if players protested on the field.

The NFL is never going to satisfy everyone on the national anthem, no matter what decision it and the union reach. But it would do well to remember that forced or faux displays of patriotism aren't patriotism at all. Just the opposite, in fact.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour

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