Photo via Keith Allison
It’s been a whirlwind off-season for the NFL, and it has little to do with changing team rosters or pass routes. After announcing a new policy that would have punished teams and players for kneeling during the singing of the national anthem, the league has halted implementation of the rule, opting instead to meet with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) to discuss the protests before the next season kicks off.
According to the Washington Post, the National Football League and the Players Association announced the agreement late Thursday night, less than two months after the divisive anthem policy was announced in May. In a joint press release, the two factions of America’s most popular professional sport announced the rule suspension amidst continued discussions between league officials and players union representatives.
“The NFL and NFLPA, through recent discussions, have been working on a resolution to the anthem issue,” the statement reads. “In order to allow this constructive dialogue to continue, we have come to a standstill agreement on the NFLPA’s grievance and on the NFL’s anthem policy. No new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks while these confidential discussions are ongoing.”
Introduced after the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl win in February, and repeated Twitter tirades from President Donald Trump deriding the protests, the new rule would require players to either stand on the sideline at attention during the pre-game national anthem, or remain in the locker room, where protests would not been seen by fans or television cameras. As punishment for any departures from that procedure, teams would be fined by the league, with each organization then offered the opportunity to sanction the kneeling or fist-raising players, or pay the fee itself.
In the two months since the policy was announced, at least one player, Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, has indicated that he would continue to protest — fine or not — while reactions from team leadership have been mixed.
As soon as the rule change was announced, New York Jets Chairman Christopher Johnson told reporters that his team would not hand down consequences for protesting players. On the other side of the spectrum, Miami Dolphins ownership have indicated that the South Florida squad won’t rule out suspending players for up to four games without pay for participating in anthem protests. The four-game suspension is the maximum punishment available for breaking the league’s conduct policy.
Under influence from Trump, team owners passed the new anthem rule unilaterally, seeking no input from players before voting on the pre-game change. For players who have repeatedly explained that their protest is focused on police brutality and racial injustice in America, the owners’ May decision was seen as yet another refusal to acknowledge the protest’s true purpose.
"I’m going to take my fine. I ain't going to let them stop me from doing what I want to do," Casey told CNN on Wednesday. "If they want to have these battles between players and organizations, this is the way it's going to be. It's not necessarily about the anthem, that's where everybody's messing up. The way that the justice system treats minorities is the issue that we have."
It is not yet clear what will come of the continued discussions between the NFL and the Players Association, but as of now, it appears that the league has reverted the anthem policy to its previous wording, in which players are required to be on the sideline for the anthem, but are not given any guidelines on whether to stand or not.
“The NFL and NFLPA reflect the great values of America, which are repeatedly demonstrated by the many players doing extraordinary work in communities across our country to promote equality, fairness and justice,” the league and union said in their joint statement. “Our shared focus will remain on finding a solution to the anthem issue through mutual, good faith commitments, outside of litigation.”