NFL owners voted to settle the national anthem debate, removing a requirement for players to be on the field for the anthem, and giving players the option to stay in the locker room.
The new policy states: "All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem. The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem has been performed."
Teams will be fined for any personnel that "do not show proper respect for the flag and Anthem” on the sidelines.
If teams decide to enact a policy on the national anthem, they could enforce any policy including punishment under conduct detrimental rules. The new policy will allow players to stay in the locker room for the anthem or for teams to set their own rules under conduct detrimental, according to Albert Breer of the MMQB.
There is a policy that states players "should" stand for the anthem but that rule is not in the collective bargaining agreement, but is filed instead under the league's game operations manual, which doesn't need to be collectively bargained.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued the following statement:
"The policy adopted today was approved in concert with the NFL’s ongoing commitment to local communities and our country — one that is extraordinary in its scope, resources, and alignment with our players. We are dedicated to continuing our collaboration 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 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. It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case. 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. We believe today’s decision will keep our focus on the game and the extraordinary athletes who play it—and on our fans who enjoy it."
Goodell can impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the national anthem.
The debate started in August 2016 when former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem. Kaepernick continued the practice throughout the season and was joined by teammates in protesting racial inequality and police bruality.
Kaeperick has not played since that season and filed a grievance against the NFL that owners colluded to keep him off the field because of his stance.
The issue got more heated last year when President Donald Trump said that owners should fire players who disrespected the flag.
The NFL Players Association issued the following statement:
"The NFL chose not to consult the union in the development of this new "policy".. The NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their portests to raise awareness about the issues they care about. The vote by NFL club CEOs today contradicts the statements made to our player leadership by Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Chairman of the NFL's Management Council John Mara about the principles, values, and patriotism of our league. Our union will review the new "policy" and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent wth the collective bargaining agreement."
That led to a league–wide protest where more than 200 players either refused to stand for the anthem or stayed in the locker room.