Crunch time in the NFL over protests

From an editorial in the Chicago Tribune on Friday:

NFL team owners will meet (this) week in New York to decide whether to force players to stand during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The backdrop for this was that NFL Sunday three weeks ago like no other before it. After President Donald Trump told a rally in Alabama that any player who knelt during the national anthem was “a son of a bitch,” several owners locked arms with their players on game day as the anthem played. Many teams issued statements denouncing Trump’s remarks, and almost all defended players’ rights to express themselves.

Since then, reality has set in. Ratings have been flagging for some time, well before the anthem controversy. A segment of the NFL’s fan base disapproves of player protests during the anthem. There’ve been rumblings of a fan boycott, perhaps on Veterans Day weekend.

This is the moment when the dispute likely tips toward respectful resolution or dangerous escalation: If owners force players to stand or face fines, suspensions or both, will the players acquiesce? Or will a growing number of them fight back, kneeling together in solidarity?

The owners have a legal right to set boundaries on the behavior of their employees. It’s disappointing that, three weeks after backing their players’ right to express themselves, they’re now rethinking that stance. But they have the right to impose consequences on players who refuse to obey management directives.

What the owners, and the players, shouldn’t forget is the most powerful party in play: the league’s fan base. That is, millions of Americans are free to declare a pox on owners and players, and then to abandon the game.