NFL Adresses Anthem Protests with Policy Change

The NFL and the team owners from around the league agreed to a new policy on Wednesday, May 21, regarding player involvement in the National Anthem according to the NFL. The controversial action taken by the league comes after the recent rise of national anthem protests across American sports.

The approved policy is broken down into six key components:
1. All team and league personnel on the field stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
2. The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem.
3. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem has been performed.
4. 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.
5. Each club may develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles, regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
6. The Commissioner will impose appropriate on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

In laments terms, the new policy regarding the pre-game festivities means that as apart of the new policy those who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room until after the anthem has finished. Those that choose not to stand during the anthem and stay on the field of play will have their team subject to fines. Teams will also now have the ability to develop their own rules and guidelines concerning those who choose not to stand for the flag and the anthem.

In a statement by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, he said, “It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not the case.” Goodell would continue to add, ” This season, all-league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.”
In a sign that players were not part of the discussions, any violations of the policy would result in fines against the team – not the players. The NFL Players Association said it would challenge any part of the new policy that violates the collective bargaining agreement.

The now-famous kneeling for the national anthem was made highly publicized by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick who began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016, a quiet but powerful protest against police brutality and racial inequities in the justice system. Kaepernick’s stance would turn into a movement and would go on to be followed by other players in the NFL and across athletes in America.

Personalities across the league have since the new policy was announced have come out and shared their opinions on the change. Among those who have shared their opinions is Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long, an outspoken personality off the field.

NFL Player Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith came out against what he feels is an unfair ruling. “History has taught us that both patriotism and protest are like water; if the force is strong enough it cannot be suppressed. Today, the ceo’s of the NFL created a rule that people who hate autocracies should reject,” Smith said in a statement on Twitter. “Management has chosen to quash the same freedom of speech that protects someone who wants to salute the flag in an effort to prevent someone who does not wish to do so.”

Smith’s  stance is a reflection of the NFLPA, a stance that makes it appear that the debate over the anthem protests has only just begun. “The sad irony of this rule is that anyone who wants to express their patriotism is subject to the whim of a person who calls himself an ‘owner.’ I know that not all of the NFL ceo’s are for this and I know that true American patriots are not cheering today,” Smith continued.

Owners and team officials have also spoken about what can be expected moving forward. Among them, Jets chairman Christopher Johnson says that his players are free to take a knee or protest during the anthem without fear of repercussion.

Buffalo Bills owner Kim Pegula released a statement on the issue. “We are proud of the work the league and our players have done over the course of the year to help strengthen our communities, raise awareness on issues of social injustice, and help find solutions. The policy instituted today will have no effect on that whatsoever, our communication has been strong with the leaders of our team and that will continue. I plan on meeting with Coach McDermott, Brandon Beane and players in the near future to reiterate that.”

While the new policy is freshly implemented if the initial feedback is any preview for what is to come it does not appear the conversation will be ending anytime soon. With teams having the ability to decide their own punishment for players and a set of guidelines in place regarding the Anthem it leaves many boxes still unchecked before the start of next season. This also creates greater buzz and uncertainty about what if any future in the NFL does Kaepernick now have.

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