NFL Issues New Anthem Rules

On May 23, 2018, all 32 NFL team owners voted to approve a policy statement that would require players to stand during, and show respect for, the national anthem. However, if a player did not want to stand for the national anthem, then he must remain in the locker room. If a player decides to protest the national anthem by kneeling, or disrespecting the anthem or the flag in any way, then the team, not the player, will be fined. According to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, “[t]his 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.”

When asked who would decide what actions are disrespectful to the anthem or the flag, Goodell said, “[w]ell, I think the general public has a very strong view of what respect for the flag is and that moment. We have language in our policy that talks about that, standing attention, hats off, and focused. And I think the general arbiter will the clubs and the league and we’ll work with our players to get their viewpoint also.”

The new policy is a clear response to the anthem protests that started in 2016 after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and perceived racial inequities within the United States justice system. Other NFL players later joined Kaepernick and took up the cause by kneeling, or raising fists, during the national anthem. The protests sparked a nationwide controversy and even drew harsh criticism from President Trump. According to Goodell, “[i]t 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.” It was rumored that the NFL was considering assessing a 15-yard penalty against any player who took a knee or conducted any other protest during the anthem; however, owners decided to punish the teams for anthem protest, instead of the players.  According to Goodell, “[w]e think that we’ve come up with a balanced process, procedure, and policy that will allow those players who feel they can’t stand for the anthem to stay in the locker room. There’s no penalty for that, but we’re going to encourage all of them to be on field. We’d like for all of them to be on the field and stand at attention.”

While all 32 NFL team owners reportedly unanimously supported the policy, National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) on the other hand, was not consulted. According to the NFLPA, “[t]he 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 vote by NFL club CEOs today contradicts the statements made to our player leadership by Commissioner Roger Goodell … about the principles, values, and patriotism of our league.”

The move has reignited the very thing it sought to prevent, controversy. Twitter erupted after Goodell made his statements about the new policy. Some argue that the rule is long overdue, while others criticized the rule because it silences the players right to free speech. Regardless of your opinion, it will be interesting to see if players continue to protest the anthem by remaining in the locker room or if players will continue to protest on the field. It will also be interesting to see how NFL owners respond. One thing is certain, this is not the last time that we will hear about this controversial topic. Opening night is Thursday September 6, 2018.

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