Implementation of the National Football League’s (NFL) controversial national anthem policy has been put on hold.
Barely two months old and without a single minute of competitive football having been played, discussions between the NFL and the Players Association (NFLPA) have resulted in the new rules being suspended.
Last week it was reported that Miami Dolphins players who protest on the field during the anthem could be suspended for up to four games under revised team policy. Almost immediately after that revelation the league and the players union issued a joint statement saying that enforcement of the new policy was being put on hold whilst the two sides entered discussions.
‘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 statement read.
The NFL rule that was passed in May forbid players from sitting or taking a knee if they are on the field or sidelines during ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, but allowed them to stay in the locker room if they wish. The policy said teams would be fined if players did not stand during the anthem while on the field with individual player punishment left up to the franchises.
No team policies had been made public until the Associated Press obtained a copy of Miami’s nine-page discipline document that classified anthem protests under a large list of ‘conduct detrimental to the club’.
Jets acting owner Christopher Johnson said shortly after the league announced its policy that he would not punish his players for any peaceful protests and would pay any potential fines incurred by the team as a result of his players’ actions.
The new league rules were challenged this month in a grievance by the players union. The NFLPA said the NFL policy, which the league imposed without consultation with the players union, is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on player rights. Now, the two sides are hoping to reach a solution without litigation.
The NFL started requiring players to be on the field for the anthem in 2009 — the year it signed a marketing deal with the military.
In 2016, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting police brutality, social injustice and racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem, and the demonstration spread to other players and teams.
Critics led by President Donald Trump called the players unpatriotic and even said NFL owners should fire any player who refused to stand during the anthem. Some players countered that their actions were being misconstrued and that they are seeking social change rather than protesting the anthem itself.
Trump’s criticism led more than 200 players to protest during one weekend, and some kept it up throughout the season.
Kaepernick did not play at all last season and still has not been picked up by another team. He threw 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions in his final season in 2016. Safety Eric Reid, one of Kaepernick’s former teammates and another protest leader, is also out of work. Both have filed collusion grievances against the NFL.