While NFL owners told their players Wednesday that standing for the national anthem is more important than standing up for democratic principles, another team in another major sports league demonstrated a better way to treat your employees and the issues important to them.
First, the NFL: Owners voted Wednesday to fine teams if their players don't stand for the national anthem while they are on the field. Several players, most of them black, have kneeled for the anthem since Colin Kaepernick declined to stand for it in 2016 as a way to protest police brutality and racism.
Team owners and others — including President Donald Trump — think the kneeling is a show of disdain for the flag or the troops that fight for our country. In that spirit, we hope teams choose not to sell concessions during the playing of the anthem — although we doubt many will take that step. That's because the anthem policy is about dollars more than the flag. The NFL, which is already dealing with concussion issues and troubling viewership trends, wants the president and fans to stop dwelling on the anthem. The policy, they believe, is the tidiest way to make the issue disappear.
It's certainly within the league's right to do so, but while NFL owners were doing their best Wednesday to shrink from the issues that trouble their players, another pro sports franchise — the Milwaukee Bucks — was doing the opposite.
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Late Wednesday, the city of Milwaukee released a video that showed Milwaukee police using a stun gun on Bucks rookie Sterling Brown during a routine parking violation in January. The video showed police aggressively escalating their interaction — using profane language and circling the player despite Brown being cooperative and respectful. Three officers have been disciplined, and Milwaukee's mayor and police chief expressed sorrow and disgust Wednesday.
Rather than take the safe PR route of deferring to those city officials, the Bucks decided they also had something to say.
"The abuse and intimidation that Sterling experienced at the hands of Milwaukee Police was shameful and inexcusable," the team said in a statement. "Sterling has our full support as he shares his story and takes action to provide accountability."
Then the team showed how full that support is: "It shouldn’t require an incident involving a professional athlete to draw attention to the fact that vulnerable people in our communities have experienced similar, and even worse, treatment."
That is precisely the struggle prompting athletes to speak out — and yes, to kneel during the national anthem. LIke the NFL, the NBA bans kneeling, but instead of shushing their players as NFL owners have done, the Bucks and the NBA stand behind their employees and encourage them to add their voices to important conversations in their communities and across the country.
At least one NFL owner, the New York Jets' Christopher Johnson, understands the importance of that. Johnson said Wednesday that he'll pay any fines the league issues for player violations of the anthem policy. We urge new Panthers owner David Tepper to make the same kind of stand — both with his players and for the social justice that's far more important than an anthem.