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NFL owners agree ban on players kneeling in protest during US national anthem

Players must stand for the Star Spangled Banner or remain in the changing rooms.

NFL OWNERS REACHED agreement today on a policy which will require players to stand during the national anthem but give them the option of remaining in the locker room if they preferred.

The issue of how to handle player protests has loomed over the NFL’s owners meeting in Atlanta, with the sport anxious to avoid a repeat of the controversy which divided the league last season.

America’s most popular sport found itself at the centre of a political firestorm in 2017 after President Donald Trump described players who kneeled during the anthem to draw attention to racial injustice as “sons of bitches”.

DC: Trump Welcomes New England Patriots Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

The remarks prompted a wave of protests across the league in September, angering some fans and placing several conservative, Trump-supporting team owners in an awkward position.

With the NFL’s leadership reluctant to issue a blanket decree ordering players to stand for the anthem, the deal approved Wednesday represents a compromise.

Under current NFL regulations, all players are required to be on the field during renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

However the new policy removes that requirement, allowing players who do not wish to stand to remain in the locker room.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel during the national anthem last season. Source: Simon Cooper

Players who did come onto the field for the anthems would be required to stand or else risk facing fines from their respective teams.

“This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

“Personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room until after the anthem has been performed.”

Goodell meanwhile took issue with criticism levied at protesting players that they were “unpatriotic.”

“It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic,” Goodell said.

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“This is not and was never the case.”

Goodell later said the NFL would levy fines against teams if players came onto the field and did not stand for the anthem.

“If anyone is on the field and is disrespectful to the anthem or the flag, there will be a fine from the league against the team,” Goodell told reporters. “The team will have its own rules and make their own decisions.”

Art Rooney II, the president of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said the policy was the result of extensive consultation.

We’re not forcing anybody to stand who doesn’t feel like it,” Rooney said. “But those that are on the field are going to be asked to stand.

“We’ve listened to a lot of different viewpoints including our fans over the past year and this policy is an attempt to get to a place where we have respected everybody’s point of view as best as we could.”

The new policy received a lukewarm greeting from the NFL Players Association earlier Wednesday.

NFLPA spokesman George Atallah noted that players’ representatives were not included in discussions about the policy.

“Maybe this new rule proposal that is being voted on is a ‘compromise’ between the NFL office and club CEOs on various sides of the issue, but certainly not with player leadership,” Atallah said. “We weren’t there or part of the discussions.”

NFL's Colin Kaepernick National Anthem Protests Kaepernick, centre, has been a high-profile target of criticism for kneeling during the anthem and remains without a team to play for. Source: TNS/ABACA

The kneeling protest was started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 as a way to protest police brutality, racial injustice and social inequality.

Kaepernick’s protest followed a wave of deaths involving black men during confrontations with law enforcement.

In 2017, Kaepernick was unable to get an NFL job and the kneel protest was waning until Trump made an issue of it, saying the move was disrespectful to the nation and the flag — motivations never assigned by Kaepernick.

Free agents Kaepernick and Eric Reid are suing the NFL, saying league owners colluded to keep them unsigned as retaliation for the protests.

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