Professional football players who over the past two seasons have snubbed the national anthem repeatedly, using their employers’ venues, influence and profile to protest “social injustice,” have been told by National Football League owners to respect the anthem or stay in the locker room.
ESPN reported Wednesday that NFL owners unanimously approved the new policy requiring players either to stand for the anthem or stay in the locker room while it is under way.
Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh said activists and their media supporters will be unable to control themselves.
“All hell is gonna break loose by ESPN ‘Sportscenter’ tonight,” he said. “You’re gonna see people lose it live. … They’re not gonna be able to contain themselves on this. … The leftist sportswriters are going to lose it over this.”
Limbaugh said there’s “no other way to look at this except complete Donald Trump victory.”
“This is the National Football League finally recognizing who its fans are.”
The new policy allows teams to be fined if a player or any other team personnel does not show appropriate respect for the anthem, ESPN said.
“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,” said the network.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement: “This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem. Personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room until after the anthem has been performed.”
Owners of all 32 teams approved the plan at the just-completed spring meetings.
The policy means a requirement that players must be on the field during the anthem will be taken out of the NFL’s Game Operations Manual.
The previous policy instructed players to stand for the anthem.
The protest began in the 2016 preseason when Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, started kneeling in a protest he said was to call attention to policy brutality.
The activism spread to college and high-school teams, and eventually President Trump blasted it.
Kaepernick, who now is out of the NFL, and former 49ers safety Eric Reid later filed collusion cases against the league because teams refused to hire them.
ESPN explained that because the policy change is an adjustment to the game operations manual, it does not need the approval of the players’ union.
But the union is protesting anyway.
“We were not consulted ahead of this meeting on any potential changes to the anthem policy,” said George Atallah, an NFL Players Association official, 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.”
Goodell’s statement said the league wants to continue working with players “to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society.”
“The efforts by many of our players sparked awareness and action around issues of social justice that must be addressed,” the commissioner said. “The platform that we have created together is certainly unique in professional sports and quite likely in American business. We are honored to work with our players to drive progress.”
Commentaries galore while the players were protesting suggested they take their protests outside of the league’s stadiums and do whatever they want on their own time and in their own venues. But the players instead chose to keep their protests in front of the television cameras and thousands of fans that the NFL stadiums provided.