America's National Football League has issued new guidelines forbidding players from "taking a knee" or showing any other form of "disrespect" when the US national anthem plays before games.
The National Football League (NFL) will fine teams if players do not stand for the national anthem before games in future. The NFL announced the changes on Wednesday in news liable to please President Donald Trump, who had demanded an end to protests. The demonstrations were supposed to highlight persistent racial inequality in the US, particularly regarding police violence against black people, including a few NFL players.
Players had been kneeling during the anthem, heads bowed, rather than standing with a hand on their heart as is typical. In the US, unlike in most of the world, the national anthem is played before most major sporting events.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a new policy on Wednesday, with a small compromise for players. Those who do not wish to stand for the anthem will be at liberty to wait off the field until the anthem has played.
"All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem," the NFL's policy statement said. "Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem has been performed."
Kneeling on the field, or any other form of "disrespect," will be subject to sanction. Asked what constituted disrespect, Dallas Cowboys owner Stephen Jones said league officials would know it "when we see it."
'False perception' of 'unpatriotic' players
Goodell's statement sought to stress the NFL's various initiatives designed to "advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society." It also acknowledged that the players' protests had "sparked awareness and action around issues of social justice that must be addressed." However, it went on to say that the actions had also made some players appear to be unpatriotic.
"It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case," the NFL statement in Goodell's name said.
This false perception was fed in no small part by Donald Trump and the Republican Party. During a 30-day period between September and October last year, early in the 2017 regular season, more than one in every 10 Trump tweets were related to the NFL and the protests.
Trump's vice president, Mike Pence, also made a point of attending a San Francisco 49ers game last October, only to walk out (taking his massive security entourage with him again) before the game began. Trump later acknowledged that he had ordered Pence to walk out if players knelt during the anthem.
The choice of a 49ers game was probably not a coincidence. The so-called "take a knee" movement began with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016. Once one of the league's highest-profile quarterbacks, and still only 30 years old, Kaepernick is now a free agent unable to find an NFL club that will hire him. He won Amnesty International's 2018 Ambassador of Conscience award.
The movement even reverberated to Germany's Bundesliga last October, when players from Hertha Berlin "took a knee" together before a league match in a bid to show solidarity.
msh/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)