The National Football League has issued new guidelines for recruits who will join the league this year, many in the 2020 NFL draft, set to take place “virtually” this coming Thursday.
If players are standing for the draft, and hope to be recruited on to a team during Thursday’s selection ceremony, they should avoid clothing with political statements, shirts with overtly sexual or violent messages, or clothing that promotes a brand not affiliated with the National Football League, according to the New York Post.
The memo says that clothing with “libel or hate speech” or featuring “political statements” will not be tolerated, so if draftees plan on following in former 49ers second string quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s footsteps, they should be extra careful to keep things off camera.
Other restrictions include clothing that features “racial, religious, or ethnic slurs,” “explicit language” or “obscene, pornographic (or escort services), violent (including firearms or other weapons), or sexual imagery.”
Potential recruits also can’t wear clothing that features “disparaging depictions of the NFL” or “defamatory statements regarding the NFL, its owners, employees and/or NFL partners.”
The restrictions, so far, apply just to potential draftees appearing in Zoom meetings or on livestream from home during Thursday’s virtual draft, but the NFL does seem to be cracking down on political speech within the league across the board.
Professional football became a flashpoint for political disagreement starting in 2017, when Kaepernick began his “kneeling” protest, demonstrating against racial inequality and police violence by taking a knee on the sidelines during patriotic pre-game festivities (including the national anthem). After President Donald Trump became involved, the protest spread league-wide.
The NFL, at first, defended players’ right to protest, but as consumers disengaged from the NFL — first refusing to purchase tickets and then tuning out of games en masse — the league felt obligated to step in. After discussions with owners, in 2018, the league adopted a policy largely banning political statements on the field and forcing players to either stand for the national anthem or remain in their locker room during the pre-game.
To assuage player concerns, the league adopted a “social justice” initiative.
“We want people to be respectful of the national anthem,” commissioner Roger Goodell said at the time, per ESPN. “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.”
Now that professional sports in on hiatus over coronavirus-related lockdowns, the NFL is likely more cognizant than ever of its appearance to average Americans — and desperate to stay in Americans’ good graces.
The NFL is planning on having something of a “regular season,” and players are reporting to virtual “summer caps” this week. Like other professional sports leagues, however, how games are played and managed is likely to change. NFL games may be played in a single stadium or group of stadiums and will likely be played without an audience. Sporting events are included in the final phase of the White House’s “reopening plan” — a phase that the U.S. isn’t expected to reach until sometime in 2021.