NFL team owners on Wednesday unanimously approved a new policy allowing the league to fine teams for players kneeling during the national anthem.
The policy now gives NFL players the choice to stay inside of locker rooms during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner,” but it decrees that players on the field at the time of the national anthem must stand and “show respect for the flag and the anthem,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
“It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of N.F.L. players were unpatriotic,” Goodell added. “This is not and was never the case.”
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 in protest of police brutality and racism. The demonstration sparked both outrage and praise, and sparked a national debate once President Trump began weighing in on the issue. In September, Trump said NFL owners should fire any players who protest by kneeling during the national anthem, adding that owners should say: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!”
Following the 2016 NFL season, Kaepernick became a free agent and was never signed to another team — despite leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl several years earlier — leading some to believe he was blackballed by the league for kneeling.
Wednesday’s new policy was not adopted without the counsel of the NFL Players’ Union. “Our union will review the new ‘policy’ and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement,” it said in a statement.