As the NFL continues to be embroiled in controversy over players protesting during the national anthem, team owners are reportedly considering making a change.
According to Dow Jones (via CNBC), NFL owners are considering the addition of a new rule that would require players stand for the national anthem. The report cites an anonymous league spokesperson.
Such a rule would be controversial, though not unlike other sports.
The NBA, for instance, has a rule that requires players to stand for the anthem. NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently said the league expects players to follow the rule this season.
While the NFL would be within its rights to require players to stand, surely some people (not to mention players) would not like the league trying to silence something many would consider a civil liberty in an open forum, even if technically the NFL is a private company.
Critics of those who oppose the protests often argue the NFL has already blurred the lines of a private company by using the national anthem at all and having it so tightly linked to honouring the military. If a tradition not related to football (the anthem) is played, why do players have to honour it?
The Dow Jones report comes after Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said on Sunday that any Cowboys player that is disrespectful to the flag “will not play.” When Jones was asked about his comments on Monday, he cited an obscure league manual that said players “should” stand for the anthem. As Deadspin noted, the language in the manual changed slightly from a 2014 version, with the newer version threatening different disciplinary action.
On Tuesday, league spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters that the change was made in 2015, according to USA Today’s Nancy Armour. He also noted the difference between the manual saying players “should” stand vs. “must.”
The league owners are expected to meet in New York next week where anthem protests are likely to be a topic of discussion.
It’s unclear where the league goes from here. Some NFL players have claimed they are under pressure from owners and management to stop protesting. For many players, the decision not to stand could come down to job security. One NFL player told The Root that players who aren’t first- or second-stringers are worried about losing their roles or even their jobs if they defy orders and protest.
Conversely, as former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin told KRLD-FM 105.3 The Fan, it would be interesting to see what teams like the Cowboys would do if crucial skill players knelt during the anthem. For instance, would Jones bench Dak Prescott or Dez Bryant if they knelt during the anthem, despite team orders? Irvin is doubtful.
Suffice to say, regardless of what happens with league policy, the issue is not likely to go away any time soon.
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