By: Ryan Mayer
Heading into this week’s league meetings in Atlanta, one of the biggest questions was how, if at all, the NFL would attempt to address players protesting during the national anthem.
According to a report from Albert Breer at Sports Illustrated, one of the ideas that was discussed was potential 15-yard penalties for any player that is kneeling if the teams decide to come out of the locker room for the anthem. From the report:
“An idea being floated in the room goes like this: It would be up to the home team on whether both teams come out of the locker room for the anthem, and, should teams come out, 15-yard penalties could be assessed for kneeling.”
However, according to a new report from ESPN, the owners are set to vote on, and likely approve, a new policy requiring players to stand for the anthem…if they are on the field. From the report:
“NFL owners are on the verge of approving a new national anthem policy that requires players to stand if they are on the field during the performance but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if they prefer, sources told ESPN the Magazine’s Seth Wickersham on Wednesday.
The new policy will subject teams to a fine if a player or any other team personnel do not show appropriate respect for the anthem. That includes any attempt to kneel, as dozens of players have done during the past two seasons. Those teams will also have the option to fine any team personnel, including players, for the infraction.”
So, under the new policy, players would no longer be required to be on the field during the national anthem. If they are, and they choose to protest in any way, their team will be subject to fines.
According to the piece, since this policy is part of the league’s game operations manual, it is not subject to negotiation with the players’ association. However, that doesn’t mean the NFLPA is necessarily going to accept the decision.
NFLPA spokesman George Atallah issued a statement to ESPN saying the following.
“We were not consulted ahead of this meeting on any potential changes to the anthem policy. If there are changes to the policy that put players in a position where they could be disciplined or fined, we are going to do what we always do – fight anything that encroaches on players’ rights to the end.”
In related news, the league did agree to a pact with the Players Coalition to provide at least $90 million to programs combating social inequality.
The original reason behind the protest, as voiced by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, was to bring awareness to oppression and injustice in the United States. Several players continued Kaepernick’s protest throughout last season and the league has been looking for various ways to try and work with its players to address the grievances they have.
Kaepernick and former teammate Eric Reid have both filed lawsuits against the league alleging collusion among the owners to keep them out of the league due to the protests. Both lawsuits are still pending.