NFL Could Require Players to Stand During National Anthem

Owners considering league-wide policy change concerning protests.

Tom Brady and Patriots
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, left, and Tom Brady (12) Phillip Dorsett (13) Matthew Slater, second from right, and David Harris (45) stand during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The other shoe has finally dropped. More than a year after Colin Kaepernick first sat, then knelt during the national anthem during a National Football League game—to protest, as he put it, “the oppressed”—the NFL and its owners are considering a plan to require players to stand during the national anthem.

As Sports Illustrated notes, a decision could be made as early as next week, when owners meet to discuss policy.

What’s unclear is how this will affect the NFL’s current operations manual policy, which states that all players should be on the sideline during the anthem, “stand at attention [and] face the flag,” and not doing so, “may result in discipline, such as fines [and] suspensions.” The key word here is “may,” as it’s at the team’s discretion what players can or cannot do during the playing of the anthem—and what the consequences are if in breach of the policy.

It’s also unclear why owners upset with players protesting have not enforced the operations manual’s contents, as two weeks ago, entire teams decided not to appear on the field for the anthem—the most memorable case of which was the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had just one player, Alejandro Villanueva, standing at the head of the tunnel during the anthem (though, per the manual, he would’ve still been subject to discipline or suspension, because he was not on the field).

MMQB‘s Albert Breer yesterday shared a letter from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to team owners and execs that states: “The current dispute over the National Anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country.” Despite seemingly contradicting himself two weeks ago by lauding players’ in their response to attacks from President Trump, Goodell goes on to say, “Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem,” though states that “we also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues.” (Goodell notes that he met with players to discuss the protests in September; he also received a 10-page memo from a group of top player activists calling for policy changes.) In yet another seemingly contradictory statement, Goodell says that “the controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues.”

The NFL needs to clarify its stance.

A weekly helping of fiery rhetoric from the White House certainly hasn’t helped. President Trump has been raking the NFL over hot coals for months—and has ramped things up, considerably, in recent weeks—about the issue of player protests, calling for players to be fired for not standing for the anthem. In a sign of solidarity, Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones recently echoed the president, saying that any player not standing for the anthem would be benched (note: he didn’t say they’d be fired).

Jones’ controversial stance, however, has not gone unanswered; Local 100 of the United Labor Unions has filed a complaint against him, alleging that Jones has violated the National Labor Relations Act, per ESPN. The filing states that “the employer, evidenced by repeated public statements, is attempting to threaten, coerce and intimidate all Dallas Cowboys players on the roster in order to prevent them from exercising concerted activity protected under the act by saying that he will fire any players involved in such concerted activity.”

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