ST. PAUL - The NFL feebly attempted to untangle its national anthem knot on Wednesday by agreeing to a convoluted compromise that was more of a cop-out.
The 32 titans of industry washed their hands of vital issues such as social justice and racial inequality by daring its players to kneel or protest during the playing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" under penalty of fines by teams that also have a punitive sword hanging over them.
Players had previously been required to be on the field for the anthem; now they are allowed to stay in the locker room, free to shout at the walls or kneel anywhere but the televised stage of unscripted violence and raw entertainment that has this country hooked on the NFL like opiates.
Congrats, NFL, for managing down a divisive cultural issue that undoubtedly will pit hawkish owners against their more dovish colleagues. Employment rules now depend on where you work, potentially pitting teams in navy blue California against ruby red Texas.
NFL teams will be fined an uncertain amount if any of their players do not "show respect for the flag and the anthem," according to Commissioner Roger Goodell. The punishment trickles down to allow clubs to fine players and staff for demonstrating any form of protest.
"It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic," Goodell said in a statement. "This is not and was never the case."
Never mind more than two-thirds of NFL's gladiators are African-American, and that some might have opinions on questionable police shootings that plagued the United States long before Colin Kaepernick took a preseason knee in 2016 in an effort to shine a peaceful spotlight on the problem.
Never mind that a league with an 85-page rule book that requires a Latin dictionary to decipher has decided, without players union input, to abdicate responsibility with a threadbare policy that placates nobody. Another grievance from the NFL Players Association is destined for the chambers of another federal judge in the interminable fight for power between owners and players.
Forget about the "Let's Listen Together" player-owner initiative the NFL created before Super Bowl LII to focus on criminal justice reform and social justice. Kaepernick's silent protest arm-twisted the chastened league to take action, and now the NFL wants to bleach the topic while keeping the former Super Bowl quarterback sidelined.
No Vikings player the past two seasons kneeled down or protested in any fashion during the anthem. Owner Zygi Wilf joined arms with his team during one 2017 game to show unity after President Trump criticized the NFL and called on teams to suspend protesting players.
Minnesota was practicing during organized team activities in Eagan, Minn., when the NFL announced its policy, so I delicately explained the lowlights as players filtered off the field.
Veteran defensive end Brian Robison said he would never stay in the locker room or protest during the anthem but respects those who have.
"I think we have the greatest country in the world," Robison said. "I'm going to go out there and stand up for that flag. But at the same time, our military has fought for those freedoms to allow those guys to have that decision. Whether we agree or disagree with what their decision is, that's not part of it. That's their freedom to do what they want to do."
Wide receiver Stefon Diggs said he divorces his political beliefs from his role as one employee among many.
"I'm part of an organization and part of a team; I always keep that in mind, from a collective unit," he said. "I like to keep things that way. I try not to do anything that's going to bring any attention to myself. I belong to an organization."
Coach Mike Zimmer was more adamant about his team staying unified and at attention.
"I was proud of my team last year; they stood for the anthem," he said. "I think it's important we stand for the anthem. I think it's important we respect our country the right way. A lot of people have died for that flag. That flag represents our country and what we stand for. I think that's important."
Kaepernick is suing the NFL for essentially blackballing him; only 30, he hasn't played since 2016. He and his comrades in uniform also have inalienable rights to protest inequalities that have plagued us since before the ink dried on the Declaration of Independence. Those players have massive megaphones to amplify their cause on social media, or from whatever late-night couch and ESPN scream fest they choose.
I argued in August to do away with pregame anthems to disarm the provocateurs. Remove your hat, place your right hand over your heart and sing like a canary on your own. Or just go back to staring at your cellphones and standing in line for $12 beers while awaiting kickoff.
But that will never happen in a country where folks love to throw the American flag in the face of anyone who challenges what it symbolizes. Honoring America is more nuanced than standing at attention for its national anthem, and the NFL has dishonored its role as an agent of change.