NFL players this season must stand during the National Anthem, team owners decided Wednesday in Atlanta, 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 that team owners unanimously agreed that the NFL can fine a team whose players protest on the sidelines during the National Anthem but that each team will set will its own rules regarding players who want to kneel. Players will not be fined individually by the league and will have the option to remain in the locker room while the anthem is played.
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.
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