In recent weeks, thanks in no small part to President Donald Trump wading into the situation, the NFL has been contending with widespread protests by its players during the playing of the national anthem. The demonstrations have drawn headlines, as well as an immense amount of criticism from their detractors and praise from supporters. According to league spokesperson Joe Lockhart, however, the NFL won't force players to stand for the anthem via a rule change, but will be addressing the issue in an owners meeting scheduled for next week.
Specifically, Lockhart noted that the league had put out a joint statement with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) earlier this week assuring that there would be no policy change mandating that players stand for the anthem.
What we don't have is a proposal that changes our policy, we don't have something that mandates anything. That's clear. If that was the case I doubt the head of the NFLPA would have put a joint statement out with us.
The joint statement between the league and the NFLPA ― which, to be clear, is the union that represents the interests and rights of the players ― was released on Wednesday, and it was very specific on the point that no anthem-related rule change is coming.
There has been no change in the current policy regarding the anthem. The agenda will be a continuation of how to make progress on the important social issues that players have vocalized. Everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military, and we are coming together to deal with these issues in a civil and constructive way.
Earlier this week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stoked the controversy by stating that "everyone should stand for the anthem," and reports swirled that the NFL might try to force the matter by changing the rules, mandating that all players stand. The entire situation began last year, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem, later acknowledging that it was an act of protest against institutional racism and police violence against black people.
Kaepernick remains unsigned nearly halfway through the 2017-2018 NFL season, despite posting quality numbers last year for one of the worst teams in the league, and amid an early part of the season that's seen some truly bad play at the quarterback position, and some major injuries among the starting ranks.
This means Kaepernick ― still in the prime of his career at 29 years old, with an established track record of playoff success ― has been deemed unworthy of holding a job by all 32 NFL teams, even as a backup. It's no surprise, therefore, that many of Kaepernick's supporters believe he's been deliberately exiled from the league for the protest movement he started. Goodell, for his part, denies that Kaepernick has been blackballed.
The controversy took on a decidedly partisan political edge after Trump blasted protesting players at a rally in Alabama last month, referring to them as "son of a b*tch" and urging team owners to fire them. This led to a dramatic increase in players kneeling the following Sunday, although it also somewhat diluted the initial meaning and purpose of the protests, shifting the narrative from one of anti-police brutality to a more vague statement against Trump, and in favor of "unity."
Trump, for his part, has continued to vehemently criticize and assail the NFL for the protests, even calling for tax laws to be changed to punish the league for failing to force the players to stand. Suffice to say it's proven to be a comfortable, galvanizing topic of conversation for him, especially amid other, more serious issues ― like escalating tensions with North Korea, for example, or his executive order ending crucial Obamacare subsidies for low-income Americans.