The National Football League announced Wednesday that the league’s owners have approved a new national anthem policy. The league says the vote was unanimous, but San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York said his team abstained from the vote. The new rules say that players on the field during the pregame performance of the national anthem must stand. However, if players do not wish to stand, they may stay in the locker room until the anthem has concluded.
Under the new policy, teams will be subject to a fine if a player or any other team personnel choose to sit or kneel during the anthem. Teams subjected to fines from the NFL will have the additional choice to fine players or team personnel for said “infraction.”
Over the last 2 seasons, dozens of players all across the NFL have opted to kneel during the anthem performance in protest of social injustice in the United States. The protests began with ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who made national headlines with his decision to sit during the national anthem prior to games 2 seasons ago. When asked why he chose to sit (and subsequently kneel), Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick was referring to a series of incidents involving police shooting – and occasionally killing – people of color without justification.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement, saying,
“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 new requirements will result in the league removing the rule that says all players must be on the field during the anthem from the league’s game operations manual. That will allow those that choose to remain in the locker room or “a similar location off the field” until the anthem is over.
The league’s owners have been in discussions for months regarding a potential solution to what they appear to think is an issue. They believe these new guidelines will end sitting or kneeling for the anthem because it stops short of forcing players to stand.
Goodell added that the league is “dedicated to continuing our collaboration with players to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society.”
The NFL Players Association issued a rebuttal statement that said,
“The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new ‘policy.’ NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about…Our union will review the new ‘policy’ and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.”
The previous rule regarding the anthem required players to be on the field but said they “should” stand. The NFL had no rule that prevented Kaepernick and other players from choosing to kneel. The movement was put back into the mainstream when President Donald Trump railed against protesting players during a campaign rally in late 2017. Trump said that players that knelt were “disrespecting” the flag and anthem.
Some owners, like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys and Bob McNair of the Houston Texans, wanted to implement a rule that would force all players to stand. Others, like Christopher Johnson of the New York Jets, wanted to steer clear of any rule that would look like it was intended to silence players.
Kaepernick remained an unsigned free agent last season. He and his former teammate, Eric Reid, who is also still a free agent, have both filed collusion cases against the NFL.
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