A solution that could have been proposed and ratified in a group email 10 months ago — and perhaps saved the National Football League from a season of grief — is now official policy.
All NFL players on the field during the singing or playing of the national anthem at league games will stand. All those who don't wish to stand will stay inside locker rooms until the anthem is complete.
Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the policy Wednesday.
And, as was always the case, players who wish to protest police brutality, presidential decisions, black-on-black crime, teen pregnancy or their minimum $465,000 annual salaries can do so openly, full-throatedly and unprovoked on the streets after the game, in front of government offices or with — here's a novel idea — daily tweets.
The nearly two-year nightmare for the sport that had become America's game in the 1970s began when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the playing of the national anthem at a preseason game on Aug. 14, 2016. His reason, he said later, was to protest what he deemed to be the mistreatment of blacks by police.
The gesture gained player followers during the 2016 season but a severe backlash during the 2017 campaign. In protest of the protests, fewer people attended games and television viewership fell 9.7 percent across all networks, according to Nielsen data. An average televised game in 2017, according to ESPN, was watched by 1.6 million fewer people than in 2016.
President Donald Trump even got in on the brouhaha, suggesting during a campaign rally in Alabama that team owners, "when someone disrespects our flag, [should] say he's fired."
Instead of taking care of the matter immediately, NFL officials and owners dithered, spoke countless words about respecting the players' right to free speech and then tried to buy players off by committing $90 million to social justice causes over the next seven years.
In doing so, they were as tone deaf in understanding Americans' anger at the protests as the national media was — and is — at why Trump won the presidency in 2016.
Football fans and non-football fans love America because it is a land of freedom. They can and do speak out against our leaders, protest over causes ridiculous and legitimate, write letters to the editor of the newspaper and refuse to support businesses because of their policies.
All that doesn't get to happen across the world, but many today don't understand how fortunate we are.
On the other hand, because we are so free, Americans legitimately expect those who want to protest to do so on their own time.
They, the fans, have, after all, paid an average of $172 per NFL ticket, driven to a stadium from perhaps two states away and plan to relax while watching their favorite sport and having a beer.
Those who pay the freight wouldn't think of protesting on their jobs — while they rebuild an interstate highway bridge, brick up the wall of a new home or trade bonds on Wall Street. If they did, they might find themselves looking for work the next day.
Why, then, should they be confronted by a lack of respect for the flag and the national anthem by players who make more in a year than they will in 10 and for causes they don't believe in?
In 2017, fans expressed exactly those feelings with their lack of viewership.
In spite of that, Goodell's decision howls of anger from those who traditionally miss the forest for the trees.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called it "an affront to the ideals I hold dear," the NFL Players Association maintained that players had "shown their patriotism through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about," and Philadelphia Eagles safety — and prominent protester — Malcolm Jenkins said it "thwart[ed] the players' constitutional rights."
Of course, what they don't realize is the new policy actually gives players license to be even more prominent in their protests than they were before. If one or two or three players or a whole team stays in the locker room during the anthem, their emergence onto the field is as good as taking a knee or poking the eye of whichever fans they want to impress with the seriousness of their dissent.
But at least the poor schlub fan, who works hard, loves the U.S. and has sacrificed to bring his family of four to one NFL game a year, won't have to witness something so disrespectful as an intended affront to the most free and generous country in the world.