The NFL has officially made changes to its policy regarding players right to peacefully protest during the national anthem.
The new policy requires players to stand if they are on the field during the anthem but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if they prefer.
The new policy subjects teams to a fine if a player or any other team personnel do not show respect for the anthem. That includes any attempt to sit or kneel, as dozens of players have done during the past two seasons. Those teams will also have the option to fine any team personnel, including players, for the infraction.
“This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “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.”
A vote took place at the conclusion of the league’s spring meetings and was approved by all 32 owners.
The requirement that all players be on the field during the playing of the national anthem will be removed from the league’s game operations manual, allowing for those who wish not to stand to remain in the locker room or “a similar location off the field” until the playing of the national anthem is complete.
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.”
After spending months in discussions, owners believe this found a compromise that will end sitting or kneeling with an edict that stops short of requiring every player to stand.
The previous policy required players to be on the field for the anthem but said only that they “should” stand. When then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling to protest police brutality in 2016, the league had no rule it could use to prevent it. The movement drew increasing criticism from President Donald Trump, as well as many fans, who believed it was a sign of disrespect toward the flag and country.
Owners, however, had been divided on how to extricate the league from that criticism. Some owners, including the Dallas Cowboys‘ Jerry Jones and the Houston Texans‘ Bob McNair, wanted all players to stand. Others, such as the New York Jets‘ Christopher Johnson, wanted to avoid any appearance of muzzling players.
Even the seemingly simple option of clearing the field prior to the anthem was rejected by some owners who thought it would be interpreted as a mass protest or at least a sign of disrespect.
“The efforts by many of our players sparked awareness and action around issues of social justice that must be addressed,” Goodell said in the statement. “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.”
Kaepernick and former 49ers safety Eric Reid have both filed collusion cases against the league after failing to find jobs as free agents.
The new policy is an adjustment to the NFL’s game operations manual and thus does not need to be collectively bargained.
“We were not consulted ahead of this meeting on any potential changes to the anthem policy,” NFL Players Association assistant executive director of external affairs George Atallah said in a statement. “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.”