ATLANTA – NFL owners are on the verge of approving a new national anthem policy that requires players to stand if they are on the field during the performance but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if they prefer, sources told ESPN the Magazine’s Seth Wickersham on Wednesday.
The new policy will subject teams to a fine if a player or any other team personnel do not show appropriate respect for the anthem. That includes any attempt to sit or kneel, as dozens of players have done during the past two seasons. Those teams will also have the option to fine any team personnel, including players, for the infraction.
A vote is expected to take place later Wednesday at the conclusion of the league’s spring meeting. Sources said it has the support of at least 24 owners.
After spending months in discussions, owners believe this found a compromise that will end sitting or kneeling with an edict that stops short of requiring every player to stand.
The previous policy required players to be on the field for the anthem but said only that they “should” stand. When then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling to protest policy brutality in 2016, the league had no rule it could use to prevent it. The movement drew increasing criticism from President Donald Trump, as well as many fans, who believed it was a sign of disrespect toward the flag and country.
But owners have been divided on how to extricate the league from that criticism. Some owners, including the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and the Houston Texans’ Bob McNair, wanted all players to stand. Others, such as the New York Jets’ Christopher Johnson, wanted to avoid any appearance of muzzling players.
Even the seemingly simple option of clearing the field prior to the anthem was rejected by some owners who thought it would be interpreted as a mass protest or at least a sign of disrespect.
Kaepernick and former 49ers safety Eric Reid have both filed collusion cases against the league after failing to find jobs as free agents.
The new policy is an adjustment to the NFL’s game operations manual and thus does not need to be collectively bargained.
“We were not consulted ahead of this meeting on any potential changes to the anthem policy,” NFL Players Association assistant executive director of external affairs George Atallah said in a statement. “If there are changes to the policy that put players in a position where they could be disciplined or fined, we are going to do what we always do – fight anything that encroaches on players’ rights to the end.”
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