The NFL on Wednesday approved a new policy to intercept national anthem protests before they happen, according to the league.
The measure mandates that players who are on the field must stand for the national anthem but can remain in the locker room if they choose.
Teams could be fined by the league if their players sit or kneel, as many have done in protest of racial injustice and police brutality in recent seasons after NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s initial kneeling protest in 2016 earned nationwide attention.
The fining or punishment of players and other personnel would be dictated by the individual teams.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell noted in a statement Wednesday that “on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic.”
“This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem,” he said. “Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room until after the Anthem has been performed.”
The NFL Players Association criticized the league for failing to consult with the union on the matter.
“Our union will review the new ‘policy’ and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement,” the union said.
On Tuesday, Sports Illustrated reported on a different, apparently scrapped, proposal in which teams could be penalized on the field for players kneeling. In that scenario, the home team would decide whether both teams would come out of the locker room for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And if the teams do emerge and players kneel, officials could assess a 15-yard penalty, the outlet wrote, citing unnamed sources.
“As always, conversations at league meetings are candid, thoughtful and thorough,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told HuffPost in an email early Wednesday. “The clubs explore every option and idea on any policy, and discuss the merits and drawbacks of each approach. We will continue the conversation this morning.”
The league also debated the issue in previous meetings since former 49ers quarterback Kaepernick sparked national controversy in the 2016 season by taking a knee during the anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality. The movement, which grew to include other players and teams, continued in 2017, prompting repeated outrage from President Donald Trump.
Kaepernick, who was not signed by an NFL team in 2017 after he became a free agent, and former teammate Eric Reid, who also protested, have filed grievances against the league for allegedly conspiring to keep them off NFL rosters because of the demonstrations.
This article has been updated throughout.