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Bucs’ Ali Marpet: NFL flip-flopping on anthem policy ‘a little bit odd’

TAMPA — This much is clear: The National Football League is focused on getting rid of kneeling players.

That was the league's announcement Wednesday in requiring players to stand during the national anthem before games or possibly have their team fined.

Last season, some owners — like the Cowboys' Jerry Jones and the Jaguars' Shahid Khan — were locked arm in arm in solidarity with their players about their right to draw attention to social injustice.

This occurred shortly after President Donald Trump, at a campaign rally in September, said, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that (expletive) off the field right now?' "

But now the NFL wants player protests to be confined to the locker room during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Maybe that's why Bucs offensive lineman Ali Marpet is confused about the new policy.

"I think it's an interesting move, considering that (the NFL) made a stance earlier and they changed it," said Marpet, who is the Bucs' NFL Players Association representative. "That seems a little bit odd."

Commissioner Roger Goodell, attempting to explain the policy, tried to straddle a very narrow fence between patriotism and protest.

"We want people to be respectful of the national anthem," Goodell said Wednesday. "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."

But what is considered disrespectful? Can a player stand for the anthem and raise a fist in the air, the way American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos did during their medal ceremony for the 200 meters at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City?

"There's a little bit of question regarding the legality of (the new policy), I think, regarding workers' rights," Marpet said. "So the way it's structured right now, the NFL would fine the clubs and it's up to the clubs whether or not to fine players. From my understanding, it's questionable if a team or the NFL could legally fine a player for protesting."

Last season, Bucs receivers DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans took a knee on the sideline but placed their right hands over their hearts during the national anthem before a game at Minnesota.

The Glazer family released a statement at the time saying they recognized every individual's constitutional right to freedom of speech.

"When the league makes a policy, the league makes a policy," coach Dirk Koetter said Thursday. "So anything else right now is irrelevant, what I think about it or what anybody else thinks about it. It just happened (Wednesday), so there's going to be some time to work through it. The clubs are going to have to sit down with the decision makers and decide what the clubs are going to do individually.

"I'm on the record what I think about the national anthem. In a perfect world, everybody would stand. That's what I believe. But again, there's a policy now, and we just have to work through it."

But this is a league that can't define what a catch is. Implementing this policy may prove to be as confusing.

But if the owners want the playing of the anthem to be treated in a "respectful fashion," does that mean they need to suspend operations at the concession stands, team store and bathrooms?

"I'm not sure what they envision," Marpet said. "They probably need to clarify their position. My understanding is very vague, so maybe I need to get a better understanding of it.

"So again, it just seems like a bizarre move to change it this late in the game. I wonder what changed it in their minds. The players are … more confused by the move than anything."

This is about optics, appeasing a large segment of the NFL's fan base, and dwindling TV ratings and attendance as much as it is about peaceful protest.
Marpet disagreed with the statement Trump made in an interview that aired Thursday that players who don't stand for the anthem "shouldn't be in the country."

"I would take the stance that everyone has the right to protest," Marpet said. "Right or wrong, whether I agree with it or not, I think in this country everyone has the right to protest."

The NFL would just prefer players do it in the locker room, where nobody can see it.

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