The NFL is not going to start forcing its players to stand during the national anthem — contrary to what President Donald Trump has demanded.
That’s the latest update on the ongoing controversy after league officials, team owners, and representatives from the NFL Players Association met in New York for two days to discuss the matter of players kneeling in protest during the anthem.
Players “should” stand, but won’t be forced to stand
“We had a very productive set of meetings here in New York,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at a press conference on Wednesday. “We spent a great deal of time with our owners discussing our efforts with our players… These are important issues for our communities, they’re American issues.”
On the specific issue of whether players should stand, the NFL will keep what it has: a “policy” in the “game operations manual” that says, “During the playing of the National Anthem, players on the field should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. Players in the bench areas should do the same, and should line themselves up evenly along the sidelines.”
That is a policy, but not a “rule,” and the NFL sees a distinction between the two. The NFL explicitly said last season, when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling, that it would not punish players who kneel in protest—that stance is not changing.
But even though the NFL will not force players to stand, it would like them to.
“We believe everyone should stand for the national anthem,” Goodell said. “That’s an important part of our policy. It’s also an important part of our game. And it’s important to us to honor our flag and our country, and we think our fans expect us to do that.”
Goodell said the NFL has “half a dozen players” still protesting, a figure that many believe is lower than the reality. “We’re going to continue to work to try to put that at zero,” he said. It sounds like that ‘work’ will involve community outreach efforts, sanctioned by the league, including, Goodell mentioned, “participating in ride-alongs” with police.
The players who are still kneeling, Goodell said, “will state to you they are not doing this in any way to be disrespectful to our flag, but they also understand how this is being interpreted.”
Trump appeared to congratulate the league on Oct. 11 for “finally demanding that all players stand,” but now we know the NFL will not do that, for now. Trump appeared to learn of that decision on Wednesday morning, tweeting, “Total disrespect for our great country!”
“We’re trying to stay out of politics”
Goodell, during the Q&A portion of the press conference, was asked repeatedly about Trump’s angry tweets and criticism of the league.
He said he has not met with the president on the issue, and added, “We’re trying to stay out of politics. We’re not looking to get into politics. What we’re looking to do is get people focused on football.”
The problem is that Trump may not let the NFL stay out of politics. He has tweeted angrily about the league 15 times in the past month.
At the same time, Goodell said, “We’re not afraid of the tough conversations. That’s what we’re having with our players.”