NFL owners are considering changing league rules to make it mandatory that players stand for the national anthem, a league spokesman said Tuesday.
The owners will discuss the possibility of changing the rule in a meeting next week. The league’s current policy asks that players players “stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand and refrain from talking” during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner, but only allows for potential discipline from teams toward players failing to be on the field at that time.
Deadspin pointed out this week that the league made a change from its 2014 policy, which stated “failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in disciplinary action from the League office.” To this point, the NFL has been publicly unclear as to when that change to the league’s game operations manual was made.
Albert Breer of the MMQB shared the following letter from Roger Goodell, which was sent to NFL team presidents and chief executives on Tuesday afternoon.
"We live in a country that can feel very divided. Sports, and especially the NFL, brings people together and lets them set aside those divisions, at least for a few hours. The current dispute over the National Anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country.
I’m very proud of our players and owners who have done the hard work over the past year to listen, understand and attempt to address the underlying issues within their communities. At our September committee meetings, we heard directly from several players about why these issues are so important to them and how we can support their work. And last week, we met with the leadership of the NFLPA and more players to advance the dialogue.
Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem. It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.
Building on many discussions with clubs and players, we have worked to develop a plan that we will review with you at next week’s League meeting. This would include such elements as an in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues, and that will help to promote positive change in our country. We want to ensure that any work at the League level is consistent with the work that each club is doing in its own community, and that we dedicate a platform that can enable these initiatives to succeed. Additionally, we will continue the unprecedented dialogue with our players.
I expect and look forward to a full and open discussion of these issues when we meet next week in New York. Everyone involved in the game needs to come together on a path forward to continue to be a force for good within our communities, protect the game, and preserve our relationship with fans throughout the country. The NFL is at its best when we ourselves are unified. In that spirit, let’s resolve that next week we will meet this challenge in a unified and positive way."
This news comes amid widespread protests from NFL players during the national anthem that are intended not to disrespect the flag or the military, but to shed light on racial injustice, police brutality and other inequalities that affect people of color in the United States. Some players have chosen to kneel during the anthem following a precedent set by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been unable to find a team this season.
It also comes amid an ongoing litany of angry tweets from President Donald Trump targeting the NFL and its players over the protests. The president has often centered himself amid the discourse, referring to protesting players “son[s] of bitch[es]” and fueling a discourse that has grown publicly divisive and strayed further and further from the players’ intended message.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that tax laws should be changed to prevent the NFL from getting tax breaks while players protest.
Over the weekend, Vice President Mike Pence flew across the country to attend a game between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers in Indy, only to leave shortly after the national anthem after some 49ers players knelt, as some have done dating back to last season. Trump later claimed he directed Pence to do so.