NFL owners say players must stand for the National Anthem

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 15: K'Waun Williams #24, Arik Armstead #91 and Eli Harold #57 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel while holding their hands over their chest during the U.S. national anthem before playing against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on October 15, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

ATLANTA — NFL players must stand during the National Anthem this season, team owners decided Wednesday, a reaction to fierce backlash against some who took a knee in symbolic opposition to the systemic oppression of people of color, including by police.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during a news conference at the meeting in Atlanta that teams whose players and personnel do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem will be fined by the league.

Each team may develop its own work rules regarding players or personnel who do not comply with the policy, which could include fines. The new policy — which was approved unanimously by team owners — does give players the option to remain in the locker room during the playing of the anthem if they do not wish to comply.

With this change, the NFL’s game operations manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the anthem. Previously, there had been no rule that prevented players from protesting.

“We want people to be respectful to the National Anthem,” Goodell said. “We want people to stand, that’s all personnel, and make sure that they treat this moment in a respectful fashion that’s something I think we owe. We’ve been very sensitive in making sure that we give players choices, but we do believe that that moment is an important moment and one that we are going to focus on.”

The NFL Players Association, which was not included in the talks with owners, said the union will review the new policy “and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.” Owners discussed the topic for two hours on Tuesday and one hour Wednesday, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam 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,” the association said in a statement.

The move by owners stems from the silent protests that began in 2016, when then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the anthem to draw attention to injustice.

It also brought the wrath of President Donald Trump, who in 2017 said players’ kneeling showed “total disrespect for our great country.”

In recent months, the league has worked toward a reported $90 million social justice partnership with the Players Coalition, using the NFL’s platform to highlight players’ efforts to curb injustice and to use political connections to push for legislative change.

The conversations in Atlanta came as two free-agent players, Kaepernick and Eric Reid, have filed separate grievances against the league, citing collusion in denying them jobs. Kaepernick and Reid both kneeled during the National Anthem when they were 49ers teammates, and Reid continued his protest last season. Kaepernick has been a free agent since March 2017.

STATEMENT FROM NFL COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL

The policy adopted today was approved in concert with the NFL’s ongoing commitment to local communities and our country — one that is extraordinary in its scope, resources, and alignment with our players. 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.

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.

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.

POLICY STATEMENT

The 32 member clubs of the National Football League have reaffirmed their strong commitment to work alongside our players to strengthen our communities and advance social justice.  The unique platform that we have created is unprecedented in its scope, and will provide extraordinary resources in support of programs to promote positive social change in our communities.

The membership also strongly believes that:

  1. All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
  2. The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The Commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.​