This season, NFL players must stand during the National Anthem, team owners decided Wednesday in Atlanta — a reaction to fierce backlash against some who took a knee in symbolic opposition to the systemic oppression of people of color, including by police.
A statement from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said team owners unanimously agreed that the NFL can fine a team whose players protests on the sidelines during the National Anthem, but that each team will set will its own rules regarding players who want to kneel.
Players cannot be fined by the league. They also will be allowed to remain in the locker room while the anthem is played.
Previously, there had been no rule that prevented players from protesting.
“It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic,” Goodell said. “This is not and was never the case.”
Scores of players have joined in silent protests, initiated by quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the 2016 NFL season, to draw attention to what many describe as the systemic oppression of people of color, including by police.
In recent months, the league has worked toward a reported $90 million social justice partnership with the Players Coalition, using the NFL’s platform to highlight players’ efforts to curb injustice and to use political connections to push for legislative change.
The conversations come as two free-agent players, Kaepernick and Eric Reid, have filed separate grievances against the league, citing collusion in denying them jobs. Kaepernick and Reid both kneeled during the National Anthem when they were 49ers teammates, and Reid continued his protest last season. Kaepernick has been a free agent since March 2017.