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NFL’s new national anthem policy shows league still has no idea how to handle players kneeling

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The NFL has released its latest rule change regarding players who choose to kneel during the national anthem. It probably won’t go over well.

Cincinnati Bengals vs Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

In case you’ve been living under a rock, in 2016 Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem prior to NFL games as a protest for human rights. Since then, a large number of other players across the NFL joined in and eventually Donald Trump went on an anti-NFL tirade in response to the protests. It has all created tons of attention on why these protests are going on, what the NFL should do about it and how it may impact the future of the game. Some teams have supported their players’ right to protest and other teams—like the Bengals—decided to try and stay out of the spotlight altogether. Some Bengals players did link arms during the anthem prior to one game in 2017 with the idea that they wouldn’t be divided. Other than that, the Bengals have not been involved in the protests.

Among the lingering effects of the national anthem protests are Kaepernick and former 49ers safety Eric Reid (who the Bengals met with in free agency) claiming they are still free agents due to the protests. Both are now suing the league for collusion and the NFLPA’s grievance against the league in regards to Reid brings into question the Bengals’ offseason meeting with the safety.

The NFL, which can’t clearly define what a catch is (though, there’s now a rule change in that regard) decided it needed a better ruling around the national anthem and what the repercussions should be moving forward for players who kneel during the anthem. As such, the NFL announced on Wednesday a new set of standards for how players should act during the national anthem and what players can and cannot do.

Below is a memo from Roger Goodell regarding the decision, which came during the owners meetings in Atlanta.

The 32 member clubs of the National Football League have reaffirmed their strong commitment to work alongside our players to strengthen our communities and advance social justice. The unique platform that we have created is unprecedented in its scope, and will provide extraordinary resources in support of programs to promote positive social change in our communities.

The membership also strongly believes that:

All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem.

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.

A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

Each club may develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles, regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

The Commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.​

Now players can choose whether they want to be on the field for the anthem. If they’re on the field, they must respectfully stand. And, NFL teams can adjust these rules to their liking for their own clubs.

There’s also the line about the league being able to enforce discipline on those “who do not stand and show respect” but it’s unclear what will be deemed as not showing respect.

The ability for that language to be defined in many ways will surely cause some issues.

The NFLPA also seems unhappy about this rule change and the lack of say the association had in the alteration of the rule.

This won’t be the last we hear about the league’s stance on the national anthem. That’s for sure.