NFL owners opted on Wednesday to approve a policy for player conduct during the national anthem. Players, coaches and personnel on the field must stand when the anthem is played, or will be fined and disciplined.
The decision could tee up players and owners for litigation.
Players claim they were not consulted and immediately threatened to challenge the policy. In a terse statement from the NFLPA, players claimed the NFL and its owners went rogue in establishing anthem guidelines after an effort to work together with players.
“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,” the NFLPA statement read, underlining that players kneeling was not a protest of the national anthem.
“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 said owners unanimously approved the anthem policy, but at least one owner, Jed York of the San Francisco 49ers, abstained. York said he felt the need to seek additional player input.
New York Jets chairman Christopher Johnson said he supported the measure out of obligation to the membership, but said players can take a knee or perform another type of protest without fear of repercussion from the team. He will pay their fines.
“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules,” Johnson said.
“If somebody [on the Jets] takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players,” he said. “I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t. There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.”
On the final day of league meetings in Atlanta, owners prioritized establishing team and league protocol for the national anthem, which became a polarizing issue over the past two seasons due to peaceful protests started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, now out of the league.
“We are dedicated to continuing our collaboration with players to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society. 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,” commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday. “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. 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.”
The policy, released in full by the NFL on Wednesday, reads: … All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
- A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do
not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
- Each club may develop its own rules, consistent with the above principles,
regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
- The Commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
A player choosing to kneel for the anthem would be fined. It was unclear Wednesday whether players holding a fist above their head while standing during the anthem would be a fineable offense.
Dallas Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said there is no fine schedule established from the league level on anthem issues. Asked to define disrespect, he said owners would know it when they see it.
“Maybe this new rule proposal that is being voted on is a ‘compromise’ between the NFL office and club CEOs on various sides of the issue, but certainly not with player leadership; we weren’t there or part of the discussions,” wrote George Atallah, NFLPA executive director of external affairs via Twitter.
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive end Michael Bennett, last year with the Seahawks, and Rams cornerback Marcus Peters (with the Chiefs in 2017) all protested by standing with their right fist raised.
Steelers owner Art Rooney said Wednesday that raising a fist or players linking arms would be viewed by his franchise as disrespect.
“I think any form of protest is a form of protest. We didn’t define exactly what you have to be doing to be out there, but I think everybody understands what it means to be respectful during the anthem,” Rooney told the Detroit Free Press.
President Donald Trump caused an uproar from players in 2017 with inflammatory comments objecting to player protests during the anthem.
This week, he praised NASCAR for its universal policy in which drivers and crew stand during the pre-race playing of the national anthem. “And I will tell you — one thing I know about NASCAR, they do indeed, stand for the playing of the national anthem,” Trump said.
ESPN reported Wednesday that owners view the policy change as compromise, while not allowing player protests during the anthem.
In 2017, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said in a private meeting of owners that the league does not want “inmates running the prison,” a reference to players protesting. McNair apologized and in April said he regretted the apology. McNair, in an attempt to clarify, claimed he was referring to team executives overstepping their bounds in dealing with owners last year, rather than kneeling players, when he said the word “inmates.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said last year his players “will always stand” for the national anthem.
Jerry Jones pointed to concern about sponsors being turned off by anthem protests.
York said Wednesday his team will consider closing concessions during the anthem.
“I don’t think we should be profiting if we’re going to put this type of attention and focus on the field and on the flag,” he said.
Kaepernick has not played since 2016 and filed a collusion case against NFL owners alleging a concerted effort was made to keep him out of football.
Former teammate Eric Reid, a safety with the 49ers and unrestricted free agent, is following suit.
Reid, who joined Kaepernick in kneeling to bring attention to social injustice, visited only one team — the Cincinnati Bengals — and was asked if he would continue to kneel during the anthem by team ownership.
Kaepernick had a visit scheduled with the Seattle Seahawks — the only team to
host Kaepernick in 2017 — but it was postponed because management wanted greater clarity on Kaepernick’s intentions during pregame.