NFL team owners concluded after their spring meeting last week that players must stand during the National Anthem, addressing the outrage caused by some players who kneeled in solidarity against issues of racial profiling and oppression.
In a recent news conference in Atlanta, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told media that any team whose players and personnel do not stand and show respect for the anthem and the flag would receive a fine from the league.
“We want people to be respectful to the National Anthem,” Goodell remarked. “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.”
How non-compliancy would be handled is at the discretion of each team. However, the new policy does allow players to stay in the locker room if they do not wish to stand during the playing of the National Anthem. With the addition of this new policy, the NFL’s Game Operations Manual will be amended to remove the requirement that players must remain on field during the anthem.
The issue was brought into the national spotlight in 2017, when President Donald Trump said that players’ kneeling showed a “total disrespect for our great country”. The symbolic protests began in 2016, when 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the National Anthem to bring attention to racial injustice and police brutality against African Americans. Kaepernick has remained a free agent since March 2017 following his controversial protests and filed a grievance against the league, claiming that he was denied jobs due to collusion in the NFL.
Although Commissioner Goodell stated that the vote to enact this new policy was unanimous, 49ers CEO Jed York abstained and said that he wouldn’t confirm if other team owners had as well. York also commended the NFL’s decision to allow teams to handle the issue internally. “In terms of allowing teams to enforce their own workplace policies, I think that gives teams the comfort that you can determine what you want in your workplace,” York said.
York went on to say that he abstained from the vote to ensure that the 49ers would focus more on progress than merely on the protests. “I don’t think we should profit during the National Anthem if we’re going to ask people to be respectful,” the 49ers CEO added.
The NFL Players Association spoke out against the owners meeting and stated they would challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement. “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 stated.
In response to player protests and requests from the Player’s Association, the NFL has begun working toward an estimated $90 million social justice partnership that would use the platform to bring about both social and legislative change.