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The prospect of players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and criminal justice inequality sent President Donald Trump into such apoplectic fits last season that NFL team owners felt compelled to act before the 2018 season kicks off. And act they did.
The owners voted yesterday to remove a requirement for players to be on the field for the national anthem, giving them the option to stay in the locker room. If players do come onto the field for the anthem, however, their teams can get fined if the players fail to stand and "show respect for the flag and the Anthem." Here's a closer look.
Anti-Anthem Protest Policy
The new policy states:
"All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem. The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem. 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."
Teams will be fined for any personnel that "do not show proper respect for the flag and Anthem" on the sidelines. The teams do have the ability to set their own policies for the national anthem, and enforce that policy under the league's "conduct detrimental rules."
The League, the Players, and the President
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement announcing the new rule:
"The policy adopted today was approved in concert with the NFL's ongoing commitment to local communities and our country -- one that is extraordinary in its scope, resources, and alignment with our players. We are dedicated to continuing our collaboration with players to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society ... It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case. This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem."
The NFL Players Association, the union representing the players, responded:
"The NFL chose not to consult the union in the development of this new "policy." The 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 ... Our union will review the new "policy" and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement."
As for the president, he appears to support the new plan, going so far as to suggest protesting players should be deported. "I think that's good," Trump told "Fox & Friends." "I don't think people should be staying in the locker rooms, but still I think it's good. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country."
While an employee's freedom of speech does not end when he or she clocks in, employment contracts and collective bargaining agreements can limit certain conduct at work. That said, players interested in continuing their social justice protests will more than likely find another way to do so.