After three weeks of widespread protests, the NFL is facing increasing pressure to force its players to stand for the national anthem, but one veteran player believes that banning the demonstrations could have unintended consequences.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is playing his eighth NFL season, and while he has yet to protest the national anthem himself, he supports those who want to do so. In a recent interview with ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Oklahoma product predicted that players would have an overwhelmingly negative reaction if forced to stand.
"I don't think guys are gonna like it," he said. "I think it's gonna be an uproar if that is to happen because you're basically taking away a constitutional right to freedom of speech. If guys wanna have a, I guess you would call it a peaceful protest, I don't think it's right to take that away."
The NFL has tolerated national anthem protests for more than a year now, but their increased prevalence this season has made them more difficult to ignore. Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement on the issue earlier this week, expressing a desire to "move past" the debate and find a common solution.
"Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem," the statement read in part. "It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us."
Soon after, President Donald Trump, an outspoken critic of the anthem protests, praised the NFL for "finally demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem" via Twitter, though the league later clarified that there are no plans to force players to stand.
The league's current policy states that players "should" stand for the national anthem. Players are subject to disciplinary action for violating the rule, but the NFL has yet to exercise that power.
The Buccaneers haven't had nearly as many demonstrators as some other teams — to date, only two Tampa Bay players have knelt during the anthem this season, Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. But despite that, McCoy says the entire locker room supports their right to protest.
"That's their right to do that. And if they're gonna do it, they're gonna have support of the whole team," said McCoy. "But if you take that away from them, there's gonna be an uproar. It's just gonna happen, because now it's just like you have a voice at one point, but then you don't at this point. And, that's our right ... it's a constitutional right that we have, and if you take that away, I don't think people are gonna take too kindly to it."
The issue is likely to be discussed next week at the NFL's annual fall meetings, set to begin on October 17. There will be a full slate of games before then, starting with a Thursday night showdown between the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles.
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