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NFL Tells Players To Stand And Respect The Flag And National Anthem


When the next NFL regular season starts in less than four months, it appears we will not be seeing players taking a knee or sitting in protest during national anthems as they've been doing for the past two years. And if we do see them, the league will fine the player's team. That's according to a new policy NFL owners unanimously approved yesterday. League commissioner Roger Goodell made the announcement.


ROGER GOODELL: We want people to be respectful to the national anthem. We want people to stand and make sure that they treat this moment in a respectful fashion.

GREENE: OK let's talk to NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman about that. Hey there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So just a quick recap. What's the - what are the key points of this new policy?

GOLDMAN: Well, the NFL is requiring all team and league personnel on the field to stand and show respect for the flag and anthem, and if they don't, their club will be fined by the NFL, as you mentioned. Now, if players or other personnel don't want to stand as a form of protest, they can stay in the locker room or a stadium tunnel until the anthem is over. So NFL owners are saying you can protest in private, which is a bit like if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, David, you know. In other words, is a protest in private really a protest, right?

GREENE: Are you really sending the message that you want to send?


GREENE: Why did the owners do this?

GOLDMAN: You know, this issue has been raging since 2016, when then-quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee to bring attention to social injustice and police treatment of minorities. It exploded last season when President Trump weighed in and called protesting players SOBs. As you mentioned, we're less than four months away from the new season, and owners don't want to repeat or worse of last year. And this is particularly upsetting to players who felt like the NFL had their backs after Trump made his comments. There was a lot of unity in the league after that, but now many players view this as the owners backtracking and lining up with the president.

GREENE: Backtracking and also threatening their relationship with their own players, right? I mean, is it really worth that for owners? What was the NFL losing by letting players protest when they wanted to?

GOLDMAN: Oh, TV ratings, attendance core fans - all those numbers were down last season. Sponsors and advertisers were voicing concern about the protests as well. Defensive end Chris Long of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles zeroed in on this with a tweet he sent out after the NFL announced the new policy. And it read - (reading) this is fear of a diminished bottom line. It's also fear of a president turning his base against a corporation. This is not patriotism. These owners don't love America more than the players demonstrating and taking real action to improve it. I'm someone who's always looked at the - who has always looked at the anthem as a declaration of ideals, including the right to peaceful protest. Our league continues to fall short on that issue.

GREENE: Well, what does this decision, do you think, mean for this whole social movement that Colin Kaepernick started among players?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, I asked a professor at Villanova, a sociology professor named Glenn Bracey who's followed the story closely. He says, in the short term, the new policy will have a chilling effect because the power of the protests was in being public, as we discussed earlier, not hidden away. And he thinks it now falls on the players to find creative ways to continue bringing attention to the issues. So we'll see what happens.

GREENE: All right. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman on this new policy from the NFL. Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.