The NFL used to just provide America's favorite fall sport — but over the past year and a half, the league has found itself at the center of some serious controversy. Following months of player protests, the league's owners collectively decided that players who kneeled for the national anthem would be subject to fines. But the NFL's anthem policy has sparked a boycott among fans – and potentially among players as well.
Last week, ESPN reported that NFL owners had unanimously decided on a new policy regarding the national anthem. Any player or official on the field would have to stand or risk being fined heavily. If they did not feel comfortable standing for the anthem, they'd have the option of staying in the locker room.
"We want people to be respectful of the national anthem," said Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner, ESPN wrote. "We want people to stand — that's all personnel — and make sure they treat this moment in a respectful fashion. That's something we think we owe. [But] we were also very sensitive to give players choices."
This is an especially sensitive topic now, because numerous NFL players, beginning with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, had been kneeling during the anthem to protest police brutality and the systematic oppression of people of color, according to SB Nation.
In 2017, this drew ire from President Trump, who repeatedly suggested that kneeling players should be punished. He's continued with these sorts of statements even now, in the wake of the new rule, saying on Fox and Friends, “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country."
There are many who disagree with Trump and agree with the players, though, and now many of those people are claiming that they won't watch the NFL as long as the policy is in place, according to Newsweek. One of these, The Hill reported, is Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, who wrote on Twitter that he wouldn't be watching the next NFL season because of the ban.
"Friends who know me, know that I love football," the Minnesota congressman wrote in a tweet. "But I won’t be watching this NFL season because of the unfair cowardly and idiotic kneeling ban."
He added the hashtag "BoycottNFL," which has now gained a significant amount of traction on Twitter.
"I'm done with @NFL," wrote one Twitter user. "No watching or buying anything football related. Instead of doing the right thing they decided to assist nationalism in silencing the voice of a people oppressed."
"I literally signed up for Twitter to let the #NFL know that this Marine thinks their 'patriotism' is cowardice and their suppression of dissent is unAmerican," wrote another. Beyond politicians and fans, though, an unconfirmed report from writer and activist Shaun King said that some of the players themselves might be considering sitting out.
"BREAKING: Several star @NFL players have told me they are considering sitting out the season until the de facto ban of Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick is removed and both men are given spots back on rosters," King wrote on Twitter on Sunday, referring to the protest's originator and his former teammate. "They aim to get 25% of the players to sit out with them."
King's claim has not been confirmed, but the prospect is tantalizing for those who believe that the NFL has taken the wrong step. While there's no telling whether it would actually work — or whether they'd be able to get enough players to make a difference — just the fact that it's under discussion shows how controversial and divisive the whole issue has become.