This is Jeffrey Lurie's moment.
In May, NFL owners and Donald Trump aligned to muzzle players who, during the national anthem, protest the systematic oppression of black men by the legal system in America. New rules said that the league could punish teams if players protest and that teams could punish their players.
This is an issue entering its third season. All along, Lurie's responses so far have been ambiguous and, frankly, disappointing. He can change that now.
This week, as the team reconvenes to defend its championship, Lurie should speak out against these constraints, which the NFL sought to impose on a unionized workforce despite the fact that they were not collectively bargained. The NFLPA filed a grievance two weeks ago that spurred the NFL to suspend enforcement of the new rules as the sides hammer out a compromise.
As they hammer, Lurie needs to speak out.
Owners apparently have been instructed to keep quiet concerning the anthem issue. So what? His voice should influence the resolution.
Lurie should publicly support the members of his team who have risked so much so far.
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Lurie has the leader, Malcolm Jenkins, who assumed the role of spokesman when Colin Kaepernick abdicated. Last year, as part of the Players Coalition, Jenkins helped negotiate an $89 million agreement with the NFL earmarked to address various social concerns. Lurie has the white guy, Chris Long, who walks a libertarian/independent line and whose support as a high-profile Caucasian from the South (Charlottesville, Va., of all places) helped make the cause less an African-American issue and more an American issue. Lurie also has the loose cannon, Michael Bennett, a fearless thinker and speaker who wrote a book called Things that Make White People Uncomfortable, which hit the shelves in April. Lurie traded for Bennett in the offseason. Bennett could use some preemptive support from his new boss.
Most important, Lurie has the Lombardi Trophy. Philadelphia, finally, is the center of the football world.
With great achievement comes great responsibility.
Why now? Because public outcry helped spur the NFL's decision to rescind its new anthem policy. Because the Eagles are largely seen as heroic victims after Trump disinvited them to the White House last month.
Presumably, Lurie – a progressive who belongs to a cartel of reactionary conservatives – did not endorse the new anthem rules. There has been no indication that he did. Assumably, Lurie stands with Steve Tisch, the Giants' co-owner, who said last week that he won't fine players, either, and that Trump should butt out. Hopefully, Lurie agrees with Jets chairman Christopher Johnson, who immediately said his players would not be punished for protesting and that he'd pay any fines to the team that result from protests.
Certainly, Lurie considers Trump's tweet encouraging harsher punishments to be inappropriate.
He should say so.
Lurie's silence aligns him with the likes of Jerry Jones, who Wednesday said all Cowboys would be compelled to stand regardless of what compromise the NFL and NFLPA reach, and Stephen Ross, who has waffled over whether his Dolphins will be punished for protesting. Heaven knows what Houston owner/warden Bob McNair will do to his "inmates."
That's why Lurie needs to lead here, and now.
He generally stays quiet until just before the season begins. By then the matter should be resolved. He could wait and let the issue play itself out. If the past is any indicator then he will.
He should be braver than that.
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This issue, in the NFL, isn't about whether the players are right to protest during the anthem (they are, but whatever). It's about their legal right to protest — their collectively bargained right. If rules are imposed by employers that affect wages and working conditions of unionized employees, which these clearly do, then employers are vulnerable to antitrust challenges.
This would take a degree of courage that Lurie has yet to fully display. That's understandable. He's a businessman, and some of his patrons would, no doubt, be outraged by what they would consider to be something that anti-American or unpatriotic. All bravery has a price. All courage demands receipts.
It's easy. Just a few pointed words, Jeff.