NFL owners have unanimously approved a new national anthem policy that would require players to stand if they are on the field during the performance. If the players do not stand, their team will face fines.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement that the policy was approved "in concert with the NFL's ongoing commitment to local communities and our country."
"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," he continues.
The complete statement is below.
NFL membership "strongly believes" the following:
- All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
- The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem.
- Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem has been performed.
- 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 work 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.
In response, The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) released a statement condemning the policy.
"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 statement read.
Adding that they would "review the new 'policy,'" the NFLPA said the vote by the owners "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."
The NFL's announcement was met with praise from the White House.
Vice President Mike Pence tweeted the news along with this simple caption: "#Winning."
But the move was quickly met with heated criticism.
Satirical news website The Onion slammed the new policy as a symbol of authoritarian leanings.
Cameron Kasky, a survivor of the February mass shooting which took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, said that the policy is "a great way to address the terrible brain diseases torturing former players to death." (Kasky was referencing studies which have revealed the link between football and traumatic brain injury, particularly one which found that the overwhelming majority of deceased NFL players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disorder associated with repetitive head trauma.)
"The NFL is about 70% black. If united and didn’t take the field at all, it would upset a lot of people and a lot of executives," wrote Dominique Hamilton, a defensive tackle with the New York Giants. "Today the NFL went backwards not forward. The NFLPA was not made aware of this new policy."
Previous NFL policy required players to be on the field for the anthem but did not mandate them to stand. In 2009, NFL players began standing on the field for the national anthem before the start of primetime games. Prior to 2009, "players would stay in their locker rooms except during the Super Bowl and after 9/11," according to Axios.
But NFL players standing during the national anthem only became a hot-button issue after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the 2016 season, sparking a national conversation on the perils of systemic racism and police brutality.
When asked why he refused to stand, Kaepernick replied: “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 later filed a grievance with the NFL for collusion to keep him out of the league. The filing alleged the NFL and its owners “have colluded to deprive Mr. Kaepernick of employment rights in retaliation for Mr. Kaepernick’s leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States.”
Internal team documents unearthed this week in the collusion case against the league revealed that NFL teams view Kaepernick as a good enough player to be a starting quarterback in the league. Despite this, Kaepernick has not started a game since the 2016 season with the San Francisco 49ers.
The NFL's policy change has come under attack for appearing to cave to President Donald Trump's relentless criticism of players––particularly Kaepernick––who lean during the national anthem.
“I watched Colin Kaepernick, and I thought it was terrible, and then it got bigger and bigger and started mushrooming, and frankly the NFL should have suspended him for one game, and he would have never done it again,” Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity in an interview conducted before an audience at the Harrisburg Air National Guard Base last year, shortly before Kaepernick filed his grievance with the NFL.
Last spring, the president took credit for Kaepernick's failure to be signed by an NFL team since breaking from the 49ers.
“There was an article today…that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump,” the president told a crowd at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky at the time. “You believe that? I just saw that. I said, ‘If I remember that one, I’m gonna report it to the people of Kentucky because they like it when people actually stand for the American flag.’”