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NFL owners have unanimously approved a new national anthem policy that requires players to stand if they are on the field during the performance but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if they prefer, it was announced Wednesday.
The policy subjects teams to a fine if a player or any other team personnel do not show respect for the anthem. That includes any attempt to sit or kneel, as dozens of players have done during the past two seasons to protest racial inequality and police brutality. Those teams will also have the option to fine any team personnel, including players, for the infraction.
"We want people to be respectful of the national anthem," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "We want people to stand -- that's all personnel -- and make sure they treat this moment in a respectful fashion. That's something we think we owe. [But] we were also very sensitive to give players choices." All 32 owners approved the policy, which will be part of the NFL's game operations manual and thus not subject to collective bargaining.
The NFL Players Association said in a statement that it will review the policy and "challenge any aspect" that is inconsistent with the CBA. San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York, however, said he abstained from Wednesday's vote on the new policy. He didn't say he opposed the policy, nor would reveal if any other team abstained.
Some important details remained unclear in the hours after the policy's approval, including the specific fine that teams would be subject to and also how the league will define respect for the flag. After spending months in discussions, and another three hours over two days at the league's spring meetings, owners said this found a compromise that will end sitting or kneeling with an edict that stops short of requiring every player to stand.
The previous policy required players to be on the field for the anthem but said only that they "should" stand. When then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling in 2016, the league had no rule it could use to prevent it. The movement drew increasing criticism from President Donald Trump, as well as many fans, who believed it was a sign of disrespect toward the flag and country.