The NFL has decided against a rule that would force players to stand during the national anthem. Although commissioner Roger Goodell still believes that players should stand for the anthem, the league is attempting to solve players’ concerns instead of changing league policy.
The movement of “taking a knee” during the anthem started when former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the anthem in the 2016 preseason to protest police killings of black Americans. And while Kaepernick is now out of the league, other players have taken up his cause. The movement snowballed in popularity after President Trump condemned it in September, saying that any player who knelt during the anthem was a “son of a b*tch” and “should be fired.”
Goodell met with the director of the player’s union, eleven team owners, and a dozen players in a four-hour meeting on October 17th, to discuss how to handle the protests. Going into the meeting, the NFL had suggested that they might take a harder line on the protests, including potentially banning players from kneeling or sitting during the anthem.
But in Goodell’s speech to press after the meeting, he took a very different stance, claiming that the league’s goal was to “encourage” players to stand by supporting the social issues that they are protesting. To that end, the NFL has endorsed the Grassley-Durbin criminal reform bill, which aims to “recalibrate prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, target violent and career criminals, and save taxpayer dollars.” The league’s policy will remain the same; while players “should” stand for the anthem, there will be no official penalty for players that do not. Goodell’s aim is to “reduce the number [of players protesting] to zero.”
The NFL’s decision has alienated some of their fans, including President Trump. Initially, Trump approved of Goodell’s statement that players “should” stand for the anthem, but when Goodell clarified that it would not be binding, his mood quickly soured. In an October 18th tweet, Trump said, “The NFL has decided that it will not force players to stand for the playing of our National Anthem. Total disrespect for our great country!”
Although Kaepernick has not issued a statement on the NFL’s decision, he retweeted several tweets that were critical of Goodell’s framing of the issue. On October 18th, he shared a tweet by @samswey saying, “White supremacy is thinking that ending black protest is a better goal than ending the murder of black lives.” Kaepernick, who has spent much of his time since being let go from the 49ers working with charities that share his values, may participate in any future meetings between players and owners.
The players present at the meeting appear cautiously optimistic. After the meeting, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said that the focus was how the players and owners, “could, collectively, collaboratively, work together to actually create some change, real changes.” But they are determined to make sure the league does more than pay lip service to social justice. “We feel a real responsibility to our country, to our communities, so we’re working through ways to really have long-lasting, real change.”
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