The NFL has instituted a new policy calling for all team personnel, including players, to stand as the National Anthem is played before its games. The policy will start next season. The move is aimed at players and coaches who have been kneeling during the playing of the Anthem before games in order to protest social injustice in America.
The announcement was made at an NFL owners meeting in Atlanta.
“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,” a statement issued by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell read.
“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,” the statement continued.
“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.”
According to the new policy players can remain in their locker rooms while the Anthem is being played. If they are on the field and kneel or otherwise protest the flag or the playing of the Anthem, their teams will be fined. Teams can decide whether that fine will be paid by the organization itself or transferred to the offending players.
The new policy comes in response to a backlash by fans who find the protests unpatriotic. President Trump inserted the issue into national politics when he referred to players who knelt during the Anthem as “sons of bitches” last year. He also said he would fire any player that participated in such a protest if he were an NFL owner.
The NFL has been losing interest among a key constituency, men aged 18-49, for years. Just 51% of men aged 18-49 follow the NFL closely, compared to 75% who said they did four years ago. While the trend began before the protests, many believe it was exacerbated by it.
“You can’t have this very specific movement and look at the last year and say all that protest and kneeling stuff didn’t have an impact. It really has, and it really has affected the viewership,” said Micah Roberts, a Republican pollster who helped conduct the poll along with Democratic pollster Fred Yang.
To that end, current NFL players have hinted the new policy is about fear of falling profits for owners. “This is a fear of a diminished bottom line. It’s also the fear of a president turning his base against a corporation. This is not patriotism. Don’t get it confused,” Eagles Defensive Lineman Chris Long tweeted. “These owners don’t love America more than the players demonstrating and taking real action to improve it. It also lets you, the fan, know where our league stands.”
The NFL says that the vote on the new policy was unanimous among its owners. Only one owner abstained from voting: San Francisco 49ers Owner Jed York, according to NFL veteran reporter Jim Trotter.
Many players said they will continue to protest despite the threat of fines, and some owners have expressed support for those who do.
“If somebody takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players,” said New York Jets owner Christopher Johnson. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest.”
“There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t. There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear,” he added.
Photo by Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons