So how does the NFL put out the dumpster fire that its brand has become after it pulled the colossal business and ethics error of encouraging and supporting protests during the National Anthem?
How about starting with a heart-felt apology to its fans, business partners, and, yes, even the players. Before you become outraged at my suggestion that the players deserve an apology from the NFL, hear me out.
To start with, the NFL needs to be clear and contrite over what it is apologizing for. It allowed, even endorsed, the use of radical political protest as the norm for its games. This was disrespectful of its customers, who go to a football game to be entertained and not to have politics shoved down their throats. It should also apologize for the nature of protests, as they were aimed at the National Anthem, the flag, police, military and later the office of the President of the United States. This is simply unacceptable to most Americans, and it should apologize to those institutions as well.
Next, the NFL needs, in a forthright manner, to apologize to its business partners and sponsors. These are the people and corporations that have invested millions with the NFL in hopes for a return on their investment. The NFL’s mismanagement over the anthem debacle has put its partners’ investment at risk, endangered their entities’ brands by entangling them in this mess, and put the jobs of low level employees in danger if the NFL continues to see a further downturn in business.
Lastly the NFL needs to apologize to its players, in two different ways. First, it should be remembered that many NFL players wanted no part of the political protest and have been found guilty by association or have been cowed into joining the protest under pressure from their team and teammates. The League should apologize for putting these players in a tough spot and harming their reputation by allowing the protests to fester and grow.
And yes, the NFL should even apologize to the players who were the ring leaders in the protest, with the exception of Colin Kaepernick. The NFL should apologize to the protesting players for not being the adult in the room it should have been, when it should have put an end to the protest way back when Kaepernick first took a knee. After all, it already had rules in place governing player behavior during the National Anthem and rules governing players’ personal conduct. Not only did the NFL not enforce its own rules, it gave the impression to the players that protesting the anthem was heroic. For misleading the players and not enforcing its own rules, the NFL should apologize to all the players, even the protesting ones.
On top of the apologies, the NFL should take a hard stand, like the NBA is doing, and clearly state that it will no longer tolerate any protests during the anthem. In doing this it gives the players a graceful out as the decision to protest or not is taken out of their hands. This would help end the madness and let the NFL move forward. The NFL should also stop letting teams get cute with the anthem protests as some teams have started doing lately, by kneeling right before the anthem and then standing with locked arms during the anthem. Leave the politics to the politicians, and let the fans just enjoy the game. It should let the players know if they truly want to protest, it should be on their own time.
Moving forward the NFL will need to hire an ombudsman with actual power to help keep the NFL from getting sucked into partisan politics. This is needed, as after listening to Commissioner Roger Goodell speak over the last few years, it is obvious that he has certain political preferences that have clouded his judgment.
All this is contingent of course that the NFL has come to the same conclusion that it has made a mistake and needs to rectify it. If it hasn’t yet come to that conclusion, the fire will continue to burn.