NFL National Anthem Policy: Are Players Allowed to Kneel Under New Rules?

nfl national anthem policy

Getty Miami Dolphins players kneel during the national anthem in 2017.

The NFL initially adopted a new national anthem policy over the offseason requiring players to either stand for the national anthem or remain in the locker room until it is over. Since then, the NFL Players Association has been battling the league claiming the policy infringes on the rights of players. On July 20, 2018, the NFL and NFLPA issued a joint statement noting no new rules would be issued or enforced.

The NFL and NFLPA, through recent discussions, have been working on a resolution to the anthem issue. In order to allow this constructive dialogue to continue, we have come to a standstill agreement on the NFLPA’s grievance and on the NFL’s anthem policy. No new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks while these confidential discussions are ongoing.

The NFL and NFLPA reflect the great values of America, which are repeatedly demonstrated by the many players doing extraordinary work in communities across our country to promote equality, fairness and justice.

Our shared focus will remain on finding a solution to the anthem issue through mutual, good faith commitments, outside of litigation.

In practical terms, this means things will function similarly to how it did in 2017 where there was no punishment for those who did not wish to stand during the anthem.


Can NFL Players Still Kneel During the National Anthem?

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On May 24, 2018, the NFL announced a new national anthem policy that was met with “unanimous approval” by the owners. Under the new policy, teams would have been allowed to discipline players who did not comply with the rules. ESPN detailed the new policy that has since been put on hold.

The policy subjects teams to a fine if a player or any other team personnel do not show respect for the anthem. That includes any attempt to sit or kneel, as dozens of players have done during the past two seasons to protest racial inequality and police brutality. Those teams also will have the option to fine any team personnel, including players, for the infraction.

However, this will not be enforced until the league can reach some sort of an agreement with the NFLPA. This has not stopped owners like Jerry Jones from coming out with their own statement about the anthem.

“Our policy is that you stand for the anthem, toe on the line,” Jones told the USA Today in July. “That [the new anthem policy] was put on hold. It did not impact our position, my position, relative to the Cowboys. Our position is real clear: You should stand.”

Jones cannot technically punish players for how they respond during the national anthem until the new policy is resolved. What is to stop Jones or other owners from using their power to impact the players who choose to continue kneeling during the anthem? It would be difficult for the NFL to legislate. The league was hoping to have the controversy put behind them for the 2018 season, but all signs point to more public outcry coming with no resolution in sight.

Reports indicated Dolphins owner Stephen Ross planned on disciplining players who did not stand for the anthem, but Ross later backtracked from this stance. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke about the national anthem when the league announced its new policy that has since been put on hold.

“We want people to be respectful of the national anthem,” Goodell told ESPN. “We want people to stand — that’s all personnel — and make sure they treat this moment in a respectful fashion. That’s something we think we owe. [But] we were also very sensitive to give players choices.”