National anthem policy isn’t sitting well with some NFL moms
Gwendolyn Jenkins: ‘Nobody wants to address the issue. Let’s look at what are the players protesting about.’
ATLANTA — Just when you thought the NFL’s new national anthem policy couldn’t get more mind-boggling, the league and the NFL Players Association announced that the policy will not be enforced while the sides attempt to resolve the issue. This came hours after a report that the Miami Dolphins could discipline players who protest during the national anthem.
The Dolphins’ new “Proper Anthem Conduct” policy would enable the team to punish players who protest during the song for “conduct detrimental to the club,” the same as driving drunk, sexual assault or domestic violence, according to The Associated Press. NFL owners revised the league’s anthem policy in May to fine teams whose players did not “display proper respect” during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” giving teams the option to pass those fines on to the players and giving the players the option of staying in the locker room during the anthem. The NFLPA has filed a grievance.
The anthem policy is not sitting well with some NFL moms.
I recently asked more than a dozen women at the Professional Football Players Mothers Association (PFPMA) conference in Atlanta about their views on the league’s new policy and uproar over players protesting during the national anthem. The consensus? They support their sons in using their platforms to bring awareness to issues affecting their communities and the communities in which they play.
“Our sons have taken a platform, and a lot of people don’t understand that that platform is on a national and international level and if they did not take that platform, people would not understand what is going on in our culture,” said Deanna Moore, mother of former Tampa Bay Bucs defensive end Kyle Moore. “There’s no disrespect intended at all, it’s just to bring about an awareness because if we never bring about an awareness, we can’t deal with what’s actually going on in this country. I can understand someone who says, ‘Well, this is your job, and you don’t come on your job and do certain things and so forth.’ I get that, but at the same time there’s still something called freedom of speech. It can’t just be convenient.”
Gwendolyn Jenkins, mother of Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl champion defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, the leader of the Players Coalition, said: “I remember a time in sports when players weren’t allowed to be out during the playing of the national anthem, and I remember when the change came about to bring the players out for the national anthem, so now we’re talking about having to go back inside.”
Other moms took a deeper approach.
“When Muhammad Ali did his protest back in the day, everybody hated him. But by the time he died, he was a hero. So while you’re in it, people can’t understand what’s going on and the impact that you’re having,” said Sandra Atkins, wife of former Saints safety Gene Atkins and mother of Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
In the NFL, you have to earn your place on the team, and according to these NFL moms, you should never have to earn what’s been given to you by your God and your country: the freedom of expression, your voice as a man.
“I think these guys should be able to make up their own minds, their own decisions, about what they choose to do,” said Gladys Bettis, mother of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis. “We’re United States citizens. We are Americans. And that flag means everything to us. But to represent yourself, you do what you feel is necessary for you. These guys should be able to make their own decision for themselves, and they don’t need their owner or the president to tell them what they can and cannot do.”
The moms I spoke with believe it’s their sons’ human right to stand on their principles, even if it makes others uncomfortable. They support their sons’ freedom of expression wholeheartedly. Whether they choose to kneel or stand, permission shouldn’t be needed.
“I’m sorry that the world is missing the message; our country is missing the message. It’s not about the flag, because a lot of these players have people in the service,” said Joy Freeney, mother of retired defensive end Dwight Freeney.
Many NFL players have family members in the military or on the police force, and they respect those entities. These moms say they’ve raised their sons to be men and they don’t believe their voices as men and as Americans should be silenced or confined. Freedom of speech should be a right, not a convenience.
“I think it’s the players using their platforms, their voices to highlight and bring awareness to issues that concern them, as they support issues that concern others, the league, whether it is our veterans that we celebrate, whether it’s breast cancer. Those are great causes, and I think that the social justice cause is just as important,” said Gwendolyn Jenkins. “Nobody wants to address the issue. Let’s look at what are the players protesting about. That’s never been a conversation. It’s always been they shouldn’t be allowed to do what they’re doing at this time, but why are they doing it? There’s mass incarceration. There’s lack of resources and education in our communities that our NFL teams play in. I think the diversion about it being the ‘NFL protest’ just gets us away from talking about the real issues.”
Jo Ann Pugh, mother of former Saints and Washington Redskins safety Jordan Pugh, said she looks at it from a holistic standpoint.
“The beautiful opportunity of living in America is that we have the right to freedom of speech, and I think that the young men are doing what they feel they need to do, and I applaud them. For those who think they need to take another path, I applaud them. I think that’s the beauty to have the opportunity to express yourself in any way you feel most comfortable,” she said.
With the Dolphins raising the stakes on the anthem policy, it’s only going to create deeper controversy and could increase player protests.
“As we navigate through America, a lot of these young men will continue to be outspoken, and the NFL is going to have to deal with this because they’re going to have more issues,” said Sandra Atkins. “This is not the only issue that’s going to come up, so they’ve got to get it together. The NFL is going to have to get some people on a panel that can help them navigate, because I think they’ve done a poor job navigating through this whole anthem issue.”