ATLANTA – The NFL has an official rule against kneeling during the national anthem.
Following a year of hand-wringing and disagreement inside the league’s ownership ranks, team owners approved a new measure on Wednesday that gives players the option of staying in the locker room during the national anthem if they don’t wish to stand during the ceremonies. Under the new rule, players who choose to be on the field during the anthem will be required to stand. If a player or team employee is on the field during the anthem and chooses not to stand, that player’s franchise will be fined by the NFL. In turn, players and employees who choose to attend the anthem ceremonies but do not stand will also be eligible for a fine by their franchise, if the team chooses to levy one.
Why the NFL changed its anthem policy
The league’s official statement on the policy change said, “The Commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.”
This effectively draws the line in the sand that President Donald Trump has been prodding the NFL to take for nearly nine months – including a consistent round of political attacks during the 2017 season that dogged the league’s owners. It was during those nine months that the NFL’s owners engaged in an internal debate over how to handle social protests within the game, and most especially during the national anthem.
At a news conference announcing the policy change, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, “Clearly our objective of the league and to all 32 clubs, which was unanimous, is that we want people to be respectful of the national anthem. We want people to stand, that’s all personnel, and make sure we treat this moment in a respectful fashion. That’s something we think we owe. … I think the general public has a very strong view of what respect for the flag is. We have language in our policy that talks about that.”
The vote was actually 31-0, with the San Francisco 49ers abstaining.
Owners were fractured on the topic through the set of owners meetings in March, when the league pinpointed this month’s Atlanta meetings for a resolution that would attempt to resolve protests during the anthem, which some players had used to draw attention to social justice and racial inequality in their communities.
The NFL’s owners were unanimous in their decision in passing the new rule.
“My perspective is, as the commissioner said, putting focus back on the game, making sure our personnel stand on the field and honor the flag, the anthem and the moment,” said Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill. “It’s been a good discussion internally, coming up with this policy. It’s a league-wide policy that clubs, on a club-by-club basis, will be able to enforce with workplace rules. So a little bit of clarity, it is a league-wide policy.”
Players union plans to fight
The NFL Players Association voiced its displeasure over the policy change. In a statement, the union said, “The vote by NFL club CEOs today contradicts the statements made to our player leadership by Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Chairman of the NFL’s Management Council John Mara about the principles, values and patriotism of our League.
“Our union will review the new ‘policy’ and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.”
Goodell disagreed with the union’s reaction.
“There’s been incredible engagement with the players,” Goodell said.
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