ATLANTA — NFL owners are leaning toward approving a new national anthem policy that would represent a move toward ending protests by players during the anthem before games.
Owners were giving strong consideration Wednesday to ratifying a plan that would require players who are on the sideline to stand for the anthem but giving them the option to remain in the locker room instead. The new policy also might give individual teams and owners leeway for establishing their own policies, and may provide a mechanism for a team to be fined if one of its players protests during the anthem.
“There are a few nuances to work out but yes, I think so,” one person familiar with the owners’ deliberations said during a break in the meeting. That person said a decision was likely Wednesday as the owners concluded a two-day spring meeting at an Atlanta hotel.
The plan models an approach taken by the Miami Dolphins for part of last season.
There did not appear to be sufficient support among the owners for a leaguewide requirement that players be on the field and stand for the anthem. They could have left the previous policy unchanged. They could have sought a compromise by making the anthem policy a team-by-team decision or a decision made by the home team for each game. They could have reverted to the sport’s pre-2009 approach and kept all players in the locker rooms until after the anthem is played.
Instead, the owners were close to choosing to give players an option, stopping short of requiring them to stand but in effect ending the visible on-field protests.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said last season he would bench any Cowboys player who refused to stand for the anthem. Houston Texans owner Robert McNair said at the annual league meeting in March that NFL playing fields are not the place for political statements. Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown reportedly told free agent safety Eric Reid this off-season that he plans to require Bengals players to stand for the anthem.
But other owners have said that while they would like players to stand for the anthem, they are not prepared to require it. That was the approach taken by owners when they met last October in New York and did not change the previous anthem policy. That previous policy, written into the game operations manual given by the league to teams, required players to be on the sideline for the anthem. It said that players should stand for the anthem but it did not require it.
The issue became a national controversy last season after President Donald Trump and some fans were sharply critical of protests during the anthem by some NFL players. The protests continued last season after being started during the 2016 season by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, then with the San Francisco 49ers. He refused to stand for the anthem in protest of the treatment of African-Americans in the U.S. Kaepernick was out of the league last season, and he and Reid have pending grievances accusing the league and teams of colluding to keep them unsigned.
“We’ve got a lot of things that we’re trying to balance,” Jones said Tuesday. “We have all the interest in every constituency that’s involved here and the issues that are involved. We recognize with our visibility and the interest itself, it’s taken a life of its own. And so all of that, we have to measure.
“We get out and we ask the world: ‘Don’t turn your head. Look at us. Look over here. Look at the NFL. Look at everything we’re doing.’ And so when we’ve got some issues that we’ve got to work through, we’ve got to realize that we’ve asked you to look, now, let’s do as good as we can do.”