NFL players and personnel will be required to either stand for the National Anthem or be relegated to their team's locker rooms during the pre-game ceremony, a new league policy states. A direct response to the kneeling, fist raising, and arm linking performed by players like Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, and countless others in an effort to call attention to American institutional racism and police brutality, the league has now banned those peaceful protests.
"We want people to be respectful to the National Anthem," Commissioner Roger Goodell said on Wednesday. "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 new policy, passed with the approval of 31 team owners — without input from the Players' Union — will require any and all team personnel present on the field during the singing of the National Anthem to stand at attention and "be respectful." Players will be allowed to stay in their respective locker rooms during the anthem if they do not wish to stand, but unless large swaths of entire teams choose to stay off the field during the weekly ceremony, those protests will be significantly less visible. If a player does engage in protest on the field, the league will impose a fine on that player's team, which in turn could fine or suspend the individual athlete.
"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 NFL Players' Union said in a statement reacting to the new rule.
Started in 2016 by Colin Kaepernick, then-quarterback of the San Francisco 49'ers, and eventually adopted by numerous athletes of color and allies across the league, the NFL's mid-song protests have brought significant attention to the social justice goals and political standing of professional football players, who are often treated as replaceable cogs in the deadly game.
But while Kaepernick was named a runner-up for Time's Person of the Year for his leadership, NFL brass has consistently rejected his peaceful protests for what it perceives as "disrespect for the flag." As a direct response to his actions, Kaepernick was dropped by the 49'ers in 2017, and has since filed a collusion lawsuit against the league, claiming he was blackballed by NFL owners for speaking out.
That tension came to a head last season when Donald Trump went on a tirade against NFL players kneeling at a supporter rally. "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired,'" Trump said.
Now, without talking to players at all, league owners have done just that.
On Thursday morning, Trump offered his support for the NFL's new rule during an interview on Fox News, and went as far as to suggest excommunicating any player that continues to protest.
"You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem or you shouldn't be playing. You shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country," Trump said Thursday morning.
In a glaring example of what respect really means though, and how little is afforded to black and brown Americans across the country, the new NFL policy was instituted on the same day that the Milwaukee Police Department released body camera footage of a January parking violation that quickly turned into an unprovoked incident of police brutality against NBA player Sterling Brown.
Racism and police brutality are not black or white issues, rich or poor issues, or something to be swept under the rug or hidden in a locker room. Without engagement and action from every corner of the country and every institution we as a society hold dear, we will never see true equality or justice. By silencing athletes and ascribing a false equivalency between standing for the National Anthem and being patriotic, NFL owners and Commissioner Goodell have clearly shown the world that is them, not the players, who lack respect.
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