NFL teams will be fined if players kneel for anthem

Commissioner Roger Goodell says players may remain in lockerroom while anthem is played

 Colin Kaepernick (centre) kneels alongside his San Franciso team-mates Eli Harold  and Eric Reid during the playing of the US national anthem in January 2017. Photograph:  Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Colin Kaepernick (centre) kneels alongside his San Franciso team-mates Eli Harold and Eric Reid during the playing of the US national anthem in January 2017. Photograph: Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

 

The owners of NFL teams agreed on Wednesday to a new policy for player conduct during the playing of the US national anthem, an issue that escalated last season into a national debate that involved US president Donald Trump.

Commissioner Roger Goodell said that owners voted to fine teams if their players are on the field or sidelines but do not stand during the national anthem, though players will be allowed to stay in the lockerroom if they choose. Players had previously been required to be on the field for the anthem.

“This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem,” Goodell said in a statement. “Personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the lockerroom until after the anthem has been performed.”

The new policy was adopted at the league’s spring meeting in Atlanta without involvement from the players’ union. It is unclear how players will respond to the new rules.

The San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling for the anthem in the 2016 season to protest racism and police brutality. He was soon joined by several team-mates and dozens of other players around the NFL, continuing into last season.

While some fans applauded the protests, many others were critical, saying the players were disrespecting the country. Among them was Trump, who declared last September on Twitter, “Sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their National Anthem or their Country. NFL should change policy!”

“It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic,” Goodell said Wednesday. “This is not and was never the case.”

The protests were also discomfiting to largely conservative NFL owners. Kaepernick has filed a grievance saying he was blackballed by league owners; no team offered him a job after he left the 49ers. Another former 49ers player, safety Eric Reid, has done the same.

The NFL Players Association released a statement responding to the rule change, saying it had not been consulted. “Our union will review the new ‘policy’ and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.”

The new policy states that “a club will be fined by the league if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.” It does not elaborate whether other types of protests, like raised fists, would be considered a show of respect.

NFL owners, players and executives met last month to discuss the anthem issue. According to an audio recording obtained by the New York Times, players wanted to talk about Kaepernick’s case, while owners were more concerned about how to avoid negative publicity around the issue of kneeling during the anthem.

“The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don’t feel is in the best interests of America,” said Robert K Kraft, the Patriots owner and a longtime supporter of Trump’s. “It’s divisive and it’s horrible.”

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair told players they should talk to their team-mates who kneel: “You fellas need to ask your compadres, fellas, stop that other business, let’s go out and do something that really produces positive results, and we’ll help you.” – New York Times service

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