NEW YORK (Reuters) – National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday announced a new policy that will fine teams an undetermined amount if players on the field fail to stand during the national anthem played before the start of the game.
Some NFL players chose to kneel during the anthem last year to protest police shootings of unarmed black men, stirring a controversy as President Donald Trump criticized the players for being unpatriotic.
The league’s new policy no longer requires players to be on the field during the anthem, allowing any players who wish to protest to remain in the locker room.
But the players’ union, the NFL Players Association, said the league chose not to consult the union and that it may challenge the new policy.
“Our union will review the new ‘policy’ and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement,” the NFLPA said in a statement.
The protests, in a league where African-Americans make up the majority of players, continued for much of the past season, with some players kneeling when the anthem was played and others standing arm-in-arm in solidarity.
Trump directed his ire at the players, but also asked if the league should get tax breaks while some athletes protest during the playing of the “Star- Spangled Banner.”
“Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!” Trump tweeted in October 2017.
The NFL last year rejected Trump’s calls to punish players who protest, but said the league’s players “should” stand during the anthem.
Goodell, in Wednesday’s statement, defended the patriotism of NFL players.
“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,” the commissioner said.
The players’ union also said 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 protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about.”
Reporting by Daniel Trotta, editing by G Crosse