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New Anthem policy requires standing if players choose to be on-field pre-game, allows teams to make discipline decision

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Players can choose to stay in the locker room, but if they kneel during the Anthem, team discipline could be a possibility.

Fooch’s update: The NFLPA has offered a formal statement following the passing of the policy:

“The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new “policy.” NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about.

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.

Our union will review the new “policy” and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.”

NFL owners are expected to approve a new policy on Wednesday aimed at players offering any sort of sign of protest during the National Anthem. The new rule will state that players on the field during the Anthem must, “stand and show respect show the flag and Anthem. If players do not want to be on the field for the Anthem, they will be allowed to remain in the locker room.

The league will also fine teams, not players for not adhering to the policy. Teams in turn will be allowed to set their own rules for punishing a player for “conduct detrimental to the team.” Here is the formal language of the new policy.

The 32 member clubs of the National Football League have reaffirmed their strong commitment to work alongside our players to strengthen our communities and advance social justice. The unique platform that we have created is unprecedented in its scope, and will provide extraordinary resources in support of programs to promote positive social change in our communities.

The membership also strongly believes that:

  1. All team and league personnel on the field shall 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 discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.​

There are a few particularly notable problems with this. The first is the notion that this is a compromise. Media on hand at the owners’ meeting are calling it such, but considering the players are not in attendance for these discussions, it’s hard to see it as anything more than a compromise strictly among the owners. The NFLPA has already brought up this concern, stating:

“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 find, we are going to do what we always do - anything that encroaches on players’ rights to the end.”

Another notable issue is the potential public divisiveness it creates for a team. The number of people taking a knee or otherwise offering a sign of protest has been relatively low. There’s a difference between players kneeling and players standing, but what about now having some players on the field and others remaining in the locker room? It’s not the end of the world, but this seems like a less than ideal option.

The third issue is the ability for teams to impose fines on players for not standing. The league can say they’re not disciplining players, but disciplining teams will almost assuredly result in players subsequently getting disciplined by their team. The San Francisco 49ers have been supportive of their players’ protests, but that won’t be the case across the league. It’s safe to say the NFLPA will take issue with this, and one has to wonder what this might mean in the future for free agency for players that are not effectively prevented from playing in the league due to their beliefs.

What would be a viable alternative? One we won’t see is simply not playing the Anthem before games. The Anthem makes sense before Olympic events, but there is no reason to play it before professional sporting events. It is a nationalistic ritual more than a patriotic one. But we also know the NFL will never do that as long as they think they can wrap themselves in the flag to create some notion of moral authority.

The owners were willing to give up $90 million for various social justice causes, but the imposition of this kind of policy shows that really is mostly a payoff more than actual interest in addressing issues of racial injustice in America. $90 million is not chump change, but for a league bringing in billions in revenue each year, this is very much chump change.

This kind of policy is one of appeasement rather than trying to find a real solution with players.