The NFL had a rough 2017 with the entire season overshadowed by players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial inequality. Countless Americans were angered by the players’ actions, calling it unpatriotic. Commentators and anchors from ESPN to mainstream news reported on the protest following nearly every game. It would now seem that change is coming in the 2018 season.
During an NFL owners meeting this week, all 32 owners voted in agreement that players have to stand for the National Anthem in the 2018 season. Each team will be able to set their own policy on how they will punish an individual for not standing during the anthem, Sports Illustrated reported.
The NFL and its owners understand that there are still going to be players kneeling during the anthem, so, as a compromise, players are no longer required to be sideline during the anthem. They can choose to stay in the locker room until kickoff.
“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,” the NFL’s new policy reads.
The NFL can still fine a team if they “do not show proper respect for the flag and Anthem” while on the sidelines.
“The policy adopted today was approved in concert with the NFL’s ongoing commitment to local communities and our country — one that is extraordinary in its scope, resources, and alignment with our players. We are dedicated to continuing our collaboration with players to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society. The efforts by many of our players sparked awareness and action around issues of social justice that must be addressed,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said following the announcement of the policy change.
He concluded his statement by adding: “The platform that we have created together is certainly unique in professional sports and quite likely in American business. We are honored to work with our players to drive progress. 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. This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room until after the Anthem has been performed.”
The NFL lost sponsors in 2017 over the protest. Papa John’s Pizza, one of the NFL’s biggest partnerships, pulled their advertisement with the NFL after their revenue dropped during the season, concluding that the decrease was a result of the anthem protest.