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NFL owners announce new national anthem policy, agitating NFL Players Association

The decision is likely to reverberate into collective bargaining arbitration.

On Wednesday morning, the NFL office negotiated a deal with all franchise owners to establish a new national anthem policy. The rules, which were unanimously adopted by the NFL teams (although the San Francisco 49ers abstained from the vote), seek to set a location and procedure for players who wish to protest during the pregame national anthem ceremony.

The changes being wrought by the NFL include these rules:

  • All team and league personnel on the field must stand during the national anthem.
  • Players are no longer required to be on the field during the national anthem.
  • Personnel who don’t attend the national anthem ceremony can remain in the locker room or a similar hidden location until it ends.
  • Before, league policy was that a player could potentially be punished by the league for “disruptive” behavior during the national anthem. Moving forward, individual clubs will be fined by the league if their personnel did not “stand and show respect” for the flag and the anthem.
  • The policy allows clubs to set individual work rules (read: punishments) for personnel who do not abide by the above rules.
  • For league personnel who do not “stand and show respect”, the commissioner will hand down individual punishments.

League-connected reporters are pitching this as a “compromise” between players protesting social injustice and teams because it provides a “safe space” for the players to avoid the national anthem while filling the field with unanimous patriotism. But if this policy were in place last season, actions like Bills lineman Cameron Jefferson’s raised fist, or the group kneeling demonstration from Bills players last September, could or would have led to a team fine from the league office. Instead, those players would be forced to disappear from sight where it is difficult to raise awareness for the issues for which they are seeking attention.

Also troubling is the leeway granted to individual teams to set protest policies. Imagine a team with a conservative owner who fines or benches players who protest publicly. Or a team with a liberal owner who announces he’ll “take the hit” of league fines and encourages his players to protest regardless of consequences. It could even introduce a political element to the free agency process, as players try to seek or avoid owners based on their team policies for national anthem “respect”.

The NFL Players Association was not happy with the announcement of the new policy, because the league and teams decided the rules without consulting the players’ representation. They released a statement vowing to challenge any aspect of the rules that did not match the collective bargaining agreement.