Political football: NFL’s new anthem policy is a ‘victory for Trump’

NFL announces that teams will be fined if players or officials kneel in protest during the US national anthem

NFL national anthem policy fines reactions
San Francisco 49ers players ‘took a knee’ during the US national anthem before the match against the Los Angeles Rams in December 2017
(Image credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The National Football League (NFL) has announced a new policy for 2018 that will see teams fined if their players or officials kneel in protest during the US national anthem.

In 2016 a movement started when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick “refused to stand for the anthem”, the BBC reports, in protest of police brutality against African Americans.

A number of players across the NFL followed Kaepernick’s lead, which led to many Americans - including President Donald Trump - accusing the protesters of being unpatriotic.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said yesterday that the team owners had agreed on the new policy, but there has been huge backlash from players, fans and the NFL Players Association, which says it was not consulted on the changes.

In a statement, Goodell said: “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.”

How the national anthem policy works:

  • Players and league personnel on the sidelines are required to stand
  • They have the option to remain in the locker room if they don’t want to stand
  • Individual clubs will have the power to set their own policies to ensure the anthem is being respected during any on-field action
  • If a player chooses to protest on the sideline, the NFL will fine the team
  • The player also could be fined by his team
See more

‘A victory for Trump’

In its report titled ‘Bowing to Trump, NFL will require players to stand for anthem’ Reuters says that yesterday’s ruling is a victory for the US President who “loudly demanded an end to such protests last year”.

US Vice-President Mike Pence had his say on the matter and thanked the NFL for its new measures. Pence tweeted: “Today’s decision by the @NFL is a win for the fans, a win for @POTUS, and a win for America. Americans can once again come together around what unites us - our flag, our military, and our National Anthem. Thank you NFL. #ProudToStand.”

See more

Reactions to the anthem policy

In response to yesterday’s news the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) revealed that it had no input on the new policy. In a statement the NFLPA said: “The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new ‘policy’. 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.”

New York Jets chairman Christopher Johnson has “backed the players’ right to protest” and any fines will be paid for by the organisation, not the player. He told Newsday: “I do not like imposing any club-specific rules. If somebody [on the Jets] takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organisation, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest.

“There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t. There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.”

See more

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York abstained from yesterday’s vote, NFL.com reports, because he “did not feel there was enough player involvement in the process”.

York said: “I’m hopeful that, with our players, they know that I will stand up for them. I’ve stood up for them in the past, I’ll stand up for them in the future. I hope that we can have a good, respectful conversation of, ‘Is it the best policy for us to write a check to the league? Or can we find a better way to use this money?’. That’s a conversation that I would like to have with our players. But I’m not going to force anybody to do anything that they’re uncomfortable with.”

Quoted by ESPN, Denver Broncos centre Matt Paradis said: “I can speak for myself: I’ll be out there, standing for the anthem. When it comes to the team policy, that’s something as a team we’ll have to get into that. The union, the same thing. We’ll have to consult with them. The owners, they are the employers, so if they want to create a stipulation, we’ll take it from there.”

While Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott added: “I’m glad they came to an agreement in some form or another. I’ll be out there standing.”

See more

How the media reacted

‘NFL anthem policy may as well call black players sons of bitches’

Les Carpenter, The Guardian: “The protest was - and always has been - a way to draw attention to racial injustice in America. It was supposed to start a long overdue national conversation. Instead, Trump seized upon it as way to throw red meat to the red states, twisting something productive into an attack on patriotism, the military and the nation itself.”

‘NFL’s national anthem proposal is a cop out, not a solution’

Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press: “Leave it to the NFL to make a tricky situation worse. Of course, the only value the NFL truly cares about is money, and Wednesday’s vote proves once again that cold, hard cash doesn’t always come with a backbone.”

‘Don’t expect players to take the policy sitting down’

Adam Stites, SB Nation: “Perhaps on-field protests during the national anthem will be curbed, but don’t expect all forms of player protest to disappear, or for players to quiet down.”

‘Policy crushes dissent, sparks ugly war on human rights’

Sarah McLaughlin, New York Daily News: “Let’s dispatch with the easy questions. The NFL and its teams haven’t violated the First Amendment by setting these rules. The relationships between player, team and league are governed by contract, not the Constitution. Instead, the question we should be asking ourselves is not about whether the NFL can suppress dissent, but whether it should?”

‘NFL’s new anthem policy destined to fail’

Editorial, Pro Football Weekly: “Our purpose at Pro Football Weekly is neither politics nor patriotism. Do we have personal opinions on this subject? Of course we do. We have the ultimate respect for all of your beliefs, and do not believe we are the appropriate arbiters of right or wrong on this particular topic. But what we can say in loud and very clear language is the league’s new policy does nothing to mitigate the issues likely to arise from what is almost certain to come next as a result of this new policy, and both the policy and the commissioner’s statement are a classic case of ownership throwing its players under the bus while caving to political pressure in an attempt to have their cake and eat it, too.”

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.