All NFL players on the sidelines must stand for the national anthem in 2018 after owners unanimously passed a new rule that bars any kind of protest during the anthem.
The league is expected to enact a rule next year that struck a balance between owners who wanted to bar all national anthem protests and those who were fearful of stifling the free expression of their players. As NFL.com reported, players will have the option to remain in the locker room if they do not want to stand for the anthem, but those who remain on the sidelines will be required to stand.
Under the new policy, teams will also have more leeway to set their own rules for player conduct during the national anthem. Those who do protest during the national anthem could now be subject to a fine from the NFL, and the league could fine the team as well, NFL.com reported.
Over the past year, a number of NFL players have decided to protest during the national anthem, picking up on a protest started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee to speak out against police brutality against minorities.
A handful of players joined Kaepernick, and the protests gained national attention last season when President Donald Trump said owners should fire players who protest during the anthem. That led to dozens of players joining in on the protest, though within a few weeks it was back to the original group of protesting players.
The contentious issue divided NFL owners, with some publicly expressing disdain for players who protested. Houston Texans owner Robert McNair has been one of the most vocal critics, and earlier this year tried to persuade players to tell their colleagues to stop the protests.
“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.” McNair said at a meeting between players and owners in October (via Sports Illustrated).
McNair had also stoked controversy for a remark that NFL players were like “inmates running the asylum” with their control over the protests and with no rules against it. McNair later apologized for the comments.
The new national anthem rules are expected to be formally accepted at the NFL spring meeting in Atlanta, NFL.com reported. The NFL Players Association said the union was not consulted on the rule change, saying it contradicted past statements by the league in support of players. The union has threatened to challenge the rule.