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Commentary By Jason L. Riley

The NFL Stops Indulging a Dangerous Narrative

Culture Culture & Society

The new national-anthem policy will help put to rest the myth that America is awash in police murders.

Is the National Foodball League’s new national-anthem policy a sop to President Trump or a nod to the millions of football fans who were beginning to think the people in charge of the country’s most popular professional sport were losing their way?

After two seasons of sheepish thumb-twiddling, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced last week that players will now be required to stand for the playing of the “The Star-Spangled Banner” or remain in the locker room until the anthem has been performed. No more kneeling before the television cameras to protest this or that social cause ahead of game time on any given Sunday. Teams will be fined if players violate the new rule.

Mr. Trump, a harsh critic of the player protests, offered support for the new policy and called for the league to go further. “I don’t think people should be staying in the locker rooms,” he told “Fox & Friends.” “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. Or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”

It’s doubtful many Americans believe kneeling for the anthem is a firing offense—let alone a deportable one. And the Supreme Court has held that such protests are constitutionally protected. Mindful of First Amendment values, the league is wise to give the athletes safe harbor if they don’t want to stand for the anthem. The protesting players, who say they are calling attention to police treatment of black criminal suspects, among other causes, are free to showcase their higher consciousness at other times and in other places. Just not on the field before kickoff.

Mr. Goodell said in a statement that the goal of the new policy is to “keep our focus on the game and the extraordinary athletes who play it—and on our fans who enjoy it.” That makes perfect sense. What’s odd is how long it took for the league management to realize that it was out of step with so many ticket holders and viewers. A Yahoo Sports/YouGov survey released last week found that 53% of self-described NFL fans support the policy change while only 32% oppose it. The general public supports the policy by a 16-point margin.

Those numbers haven’t moved much since Colin Kaepernick, a former backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, first took a knee during the anthem at a preseason game in 2016. Polls have consistently shown that Americans oppose this behavior. Mr. Trump isn’t the only person in the country who tunes into the NFL to watch, you know, football.

But the protests have been more than an annoying distraction for sports fans. On a more substantive level, they have been used by political progressives and the mainstream media to advance a dangerous antipolice narrative at odds with the available empirical data. An increase in the coverage of police shootings, thanks to social media and cable news, has been presented as evidence of an increase in the number of police shootings. Statistically rare and isolated incidents are offered as evidence of an epidemic.

In fact, police use of lethal force has been falling for decades. Police shootings in New York City are down by more than 90% since the early 1970s. In Chicago, shootings involving police fell by more than half—to 44 from 107—between 2011 and 2015, according to a database compiled by the Chicago Tribune. That means police-involved shootings represented just over 1% of total shootings in the Windy City in 2015. Over the same five-year period, police in other major cities with sizable minority populations, including Los Angeles, Houston and Philadelphia, resorted to lethal force less frequently than Chicago police officers.

A recent study published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Surgery assessed more than a million service calls to police departments in North Carolina, Louisiana and Arizona and found that cops used physical force in the course of arrests less than 1% of the time.

Writing earlier this month about the study’s findings, the Manhattan Institute’s Rafael Mangual lamented “a media landscape that regularly devotes front pages and opening monologues to graphic cases of police force, against racial minorities in particular” without providing proper context. “Despite the slim chances of being subjected to police violence, many Americans continue to harbor fear of the police, substantially attributable to near-constant coverage of isolated incidents.”

The NFL’s indulgence of this false narrative perpetrated by the political left has contributed to this undermining of social trust. Even those of us who don’t watch football should be grateful for the new policy.

This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal


Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator. Follow him on Twitter here.

This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal