LUMBERTON — Vonta Leach, a Rowland native who has a Super Bowl ring, said the NFL’s new policy of forcing players on the field to stand for the national anthem as made unilaterally, and without input from the players.
“When the owners came out with it, it was just one-sided,” said Leach. “I don’t know if they have to go to the collective bargaining agreement or what, but the owners had just one viewpoint when they made the decision. They did not get any discussion from the NFLPA.”
Leach said the policy change comes after the league’s bottom line was hurt in the 2017 season because of player protests that reduced attendance and upset advertisers.
The protests were to bring attention to what players said was police brutality against young black men. Leach, in an interview with The Robesonian last year, said if he was still playing, he would have taken a knee.
“They blame it that the ratings are down, but there are a lot of factors leading to them being down,” he said. “People have a lot more live streams on tablets and phones and don’t have to go to the games. There’s a lot of variables going into it.”
Political pressure might’ve been another factor in the decision.
“I don’t know what (President Donald) Trump got on some of the owners or stuff or if he’s got something on them to take away their 501(c)(3),” Leach said. “I think they are just trying to more than please the president.”
The new policy states that, “all team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.” Any players or personnel who chose not to stand “may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field,” until the end of the anthem.
A fine can be levied against the team whose personnel refuse to comply.
“The policy adopted was approved in concert with the NFL’s ongoing commitment to local communities and our country,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said after it was approved on Wednesday. “We are dedicated to continuing our collaboration with players to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society.”
Leach said the issue is bigger than football.
“My initial thoughts were that the owners were trying to take the players’ voices away as far as them trying to protest against many social issues that represent a lot of guys’ communities,” he said. “The NFL has decided to deny the player the freedom of speech that our military has died for trying to protect.”
Leach was interviewed by The Robesonian early during the 2017 season after more than 200 players took a knee during the national anthem. Leach isn’t sure what he would choose to do with the new policy in place if he were still in the NFL.
“You don’t know all the consequences and stuff,” Leach said. “It’s a lot of factors that factor into this.”
The wave of players kneeling for the anthem began at the start of the 2016 season when former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee before a preseason game and did so the rest of the year.
Leach played 10 seasons in the NFL, with the Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens. He was a member of the 2013 Ravens team that beat Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31, in Super Bowl XLVII. From 2010 to 2012, he was selected each season to the All-Pro team and to the Pro Bowl.
He is a graduate of South Robeson High School and East Carolina University, where he has three fully endowed scholarships. Leach refurbished the weight room at South Robeson and purchased uniforms and helmets for the football team, and helped finance an addition to the church he attended as a child.
Recently, Leach started the “44 Performance” elite training program at Southeastern Lifestyle Fitness Center in Lumberton, with a focus on helping local athletes get better on and off the field of play.