National Football League owners are nearing agreement on a policy which would require players to stand during the national anthem but give them the option of remaining in the locker room if they preferred, reports said Wednesday.
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”.
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 under discussion on 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 would remove that requirement, allowing players who did not wish to stand to remain in the locker room.
Players who did come onto the field for the anthems would be required to stand or else risk facing fines, reports said.
The reported new policy being discussed received a lukewarm greeting from the NFL Players Association early 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.”
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.