That’s the practical impact of the league’s new national anthem policy unveiled on Wednesday—a surrender to President Donald Trump and other conservatives who spent last season falsely accusing NFL players of disrespecting the military by kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The NFL’s rules had been ambiguously worded on whether players could be fined or disciplined for protesting during the anthem. The league’s new policy resolves that ambiguity in Trump’s favor: Players are now explicitly required to “stand and show respect” during the anthem, or else stay in the locker room during the pre-game ceremony. Fines for violating the new rules would be levied against the team itself, not individual players.
In a statement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell offered bromides that failed to address the implications of the new policy. “The efforts by many of our players sparked awareness and action around issues of social justice that must be addressed,” he said. “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.” That’s an audacious claim to make while instituting punishments for players who silently protest.
The new policy will likely thrill Trump, who spent last fall denouncing the protests and demanding that league owners fire anyone who took part. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” the president told supporters at an Alabama rally last September.
No one has been fired for kneeling, but teams have used more subtle means to retaliate against protesting athletes: Former NFL players Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid have accused owners of blackballing them for their political advocacy. The NFL players’ union, which is representing both men in their arbitration cases, issued a statement today saying it wasn’t consulted about the new policy before it was announced.