Commentary: Agree or not, NFL’s anthem policy is inconsistent with rest of league’s rules

We start with the story of Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams, who planned on wearing pink all last season in memory of his mother who died of breast cancer and to raise awareness for the cause.

But the NFL - which devotes an entire month to promoting the cause - said no.

And then there's the story of receiver Brandon Marshall, who wore green shoes to honor National Mental Health Awareness Month in 2013 - and was fined by the league. And former safety Ryan Clark, who wrote "#21" on his eye black to honor the memory of Sean Taylor - and also was fined. And (guess who?) Colin Kaepernick, who wore pink headphones to honor breast cancer awareness, but was fined because the headphones weren't made by the league's official sponsor.

They're all ridiculous, but all true - and they all stem from the NFL's historic unwillingness to embrace individuality. These players might have been protected under the First Amendment for Freedom of Speech or Expression, but their employer, the NFL, was saying - Nope you don't! Nope you can't! Nope you won't!

Wear your socks too low, Frank Gore? That's a fine-able offense. Plans to wear golden shoes, Marshawn Lynch? Fines are coming your way, too. An original celebration after a big play? Get out your checkbook, and get ready to pay. For better or for worse, the NFL has been in the business of forcing its players to conform and comply - to fall in line or risk penalty for their actions.

So I find it incredibly interesting how the league has decided to handle Kaepernick and other players sitting under protest during the National Anthem.

The NFL issued this statement: "Players are encouraged but not required to stand for the National Anthem."

Wait - what?!? I'm not saying that the act is right or wrong, but when did the NFL all of a sudden decide to honor one's individuality?

After all, until this point, and based on its history of fines and penalties for some ludicrous reasons I've documented here, the league has basically said they will not tolerate rogue tributes or non-conformity as it pertains to conduct and attire on Gameday. But now, that same league is "encouraging but not requiring" its players to fall in line with a pregame tradition.

To be clear, I have no problem with athletes making political statements or other statements before, during and after games. But I do take issue with the inconsistency in the way a league handles them.

In theory, by allowing Kaepernick and others to sit during the anthem, why isn’t the phrase "encouraged but not required" extended to league policies on conduct, dress code, and media responsibilities? Why wouldn't the league also give the Dallas Cowboys players the choice of wearing Arm in Arm decals on their helmets this season to honor the memory of the slain Dallas police officers and their families, instead of prohibiting them outright?

I’m not saying anything should be done about Kaepernick. And while some would call it progress, others would argue that the league is simply trying to avoid another PR nightmare if they do something about it. After all, the WNBA received a huge backlash when it fined its players for wearing politically charged shirts before and after games – and subsequently rescinded those penalties.

To me, regardless of one’s stance on the anthem, this is another case of the NFL picking and choosing its battles - showing an inconsistency in how they handle controversial issues.

So while all eyes are on Kaepenick and others who choose to sit, my eyes are more closely focused on a league in an awkward position of navigating individuality despite a strong history of demanding conformity from its players.