The NFL has implemented a new policy with regards to players who kneel during the playing of the national anthem. In trying to appease fans and possibly the US President, all 32 team owners have unanimously approved a new national anthem policy. The new policy will require all players and team personnel to stand during the performance if they’re on the field. It does give those that don’t want to stand for the anthem, the option to stay in the locker room or “a similar location off the field” if they so chose.
In announcing the policy change, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, “This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room until after the Anthem has been performed. We believe today’s decision will keep our focus on the game and the extraordinary athletes who play it — and on our fans who enjoy it.”
The league said any player or team personnel who do not show respect for the anthem, will cause their respective team to incur a fine. The policy explicitly states any attempt to sit or kneel, will bring about the fine. In addition to the league fining a team for any infraction of the policy, individual teams will be able to fine a player or team personnel who violates the policy.
The league’s previous policy had required all players be on the field during the playing of the national anthem but that provision will be deleted from the league’s game operations manual. Goodell said the NFL is “dedicated to continuing our collaboration with players to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society.”
The team owners believe this change will end sitting or kneeling with an edict that stops short of requiring all players to stand. In 2016, when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling to protest police brutality, the league had no rule it could use to prevent him from kneeling as a form of protest.
The team owners were divided on how best to handle the protest issue. For example, Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and the Houston Texans’ Bob McNair, wanted all players to stand. While other owners, such as New York Jets’ Christopher Johnson, wanted to avoid any appearance of muzzling players.
In a prepared statement, Goodell said, “The efforts by many of our players sparked awareness and action around issues of social justice that must be addressed. The platform that we have created together is certainly unique in professional sports and quite likely in American business. We are honored to work with our players to drive progress. It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case.”
Because the policy change is an amendment, it was not subject to the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ association. But according to the NFL Players Association assistant executive director of external affairs George Atallah, “We were not consulted ahead of this meeting on any potential changes to the anthem policy. If there are changes to the policy that put players in a position where they could be disciplined or fined, we are going to do what we always do — fight anything that encroaches on players’ rights to the end.”