On Wednesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the league had a new policy that will require players and league personnel to stand during the anthem if they are on the field. The move is being applauded by the league's more conservative fans — like the president. Donald Trump applauded the NFL's national anthem policy, and suggested that maybe players who protest the anthem shouldn't even be in the country.
"You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem and the NFL owners did the right thing if that's what they've done," Trump told Fox News in a Thursday morning interview. "You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem or you shouldn't be playing. You shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country."
Trump has been calling on the NFL for months to impose penalties on players who sit or kneel during the national anthem. These national anthem protests started with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who in 2016 refused to stand for the anthem in a silent protest against police brutality and racial injustice. Back in the fall, Trump described these protests as a "total disrespect of our heritage," and demanded that the NFL take some action. He has since welcomed the NFL's new policy on the matter.
The NFL's new national anthem policy states that players and other league personnel who don't want to stand for the anthem may wait in the locker room or elsewhere off the field until after the anthem has been performed. However, it also states that clubs will be fined if their players refuse to stand for the anthem while on the field, and league personnel who don't stand for the anthem will be subject to "appropriate discipline."
Although Trump applauded the policy, he also suggested that it didn't go far enough. He told Fox News that players shouldn't be allowed to wait in the locker room during the national anthem, arguing that they should either "stand proudly" or not play at all. The president also responded to the widespread suggestion that the NFL was "bowing" to him by implementing its new policy.
"I think the people pushed it forward; this was not me," Trump told Fox News. "I brought it out. I think the people pushed it forward. This country's very smart. We have very smart people. And, you know, that's something ideally could have been taken care of when it first started, would have been a lot easier. But if they did that, they're doing the right thing."
When Kaepernick started sitting or kneeling during the national anthem, he said at the time that he didn't want to celebrate the anthem or "show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." Kaepernick and his former teammate Eric Reid — who, along with many other NFL players, joined Kaepernick in his silent protests — are now both free agents who have filed collusion cases against the league. Kaepernick and Reid have both argued that league owners are blackballing them — intentionally not signing them in response to their protests.
This is precisely what Trump has advocated for; he previously said that players who kneel during the national anthem are "ruining the game," according to The New York Times. He and his administration have been outspoken on the issue of national anthem protests; back in October, Mike Pence walked out of a football game after about a dozen players took a knee.
But while Trump and many of the league's conservative fans may be applauding the NFL's new rules, the NFL Players Association criticized the league for developing a policy without consulting the union, and pledged to challenge any aspect of the new policy "that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement."