N.F.L. players will be allowed to stay in the locker room during the national anthem, but their teams will be fined by the league if they go onto the field and kneel, according to new rules adopted by owners on Wednesday in an effort to defuse an issue that escalated last season into a national debate catalyzed by President Trump.
Players had previously been required to be on the field for the anthem. Commissioner Roger Goodell said that owners voted unanimously to rescind that rule and to fine teams if their players are on the field or sidelines but do not “show respect for the flag and the anthem.”
“It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of N.F.L. players were unpatriotic,” Goodell said in a statement. “This is not and was never the case.”
The new policy was adopted at the league’s spring meeting in Atlanta without involvement from the players’ union. It is unclear how individual players will respond to the new rules.
“Our union will review the new ‘policy’ and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement,” the union said in a statement.
The San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling for the anthem in the 2016 season to protest racism and police brutality. He was soon joined by several teammates and dozens of other players around the N.F.L., continuing into last season.
While some fans applauded the protests, many others were critical, saying the players were disrespecting the country. Among them was President Trump, who declared last September on Twitter, “Sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their National Anthem or their Country. NFL should change policy!”
The new policy states that “a club will be fined by the league if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.” It does not elaborate whether other types of protests, like raised fists, would be considered a show of respect. Here is the new policy, as stated by the league:
• All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
• The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the anthem.
• Personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the anthem has been performed.
• A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
• Each club may develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles, regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
• The Commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
N.F.L. owners, players and executives met in October to discuss the anthem issue. According to an audio recording obtained by The New York Times, players wanted to talk about Kaepernick’s case, while owners were more concerned about how to avoid negative publicity around the issue of kneeling during the anthem.
“The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don’t feel is in the best interests of America,” said Robert K. Kraft, the Patriots owner and a longtime supporter of Trump’s. “It’s divisive and it’s horrible.”
Houston Texans owner Bob McNair told players they should talk to their teammates who kneel: “You fellas need to ask your compadres, fellas, stop that other business, let’s go out and do something that really produces positive results, and we’ll help you.”