Nearly two years after 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked a national debate by kneeling during the national anthem to protest social-justice issues, NFL owners unanimously approved a new policy that will require all players to stand during the anthem this season, the league announced today.
The new policy, which was adopted at the league's spring owners meeting in Atlanta, states players can remain in the locker room if they do not want to stand during the anthem. It also states teams will be fined if players or team personnel do not stand during the anthem.
"This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room until after the Anthem has been performed. We believe today's decision will keep our focus on the game and the extraordinary athletes who play it -- and on our fans who enjoy it."
The NFL Players Association issued a statement in response to the policy, saying it was not consulted in the decision. It said it would review the policy and challenge anything that it views as contradictory to the NFL's collective bargaining agreement.
"NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and, yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about," the statement read, in part.
The 49ers have been at the forefront of the debate since Kaepernick began his protest during the preseason in 2016, and CEO Jed York has consistently supported his players' right to protest. Safety Eric Reid was the first teammate to join Kaepernick in 2016, and Reid, linebacker Eli Harold and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin often knelt together during the anthem last year.
Both Kaepernick and Reid, who are not employed in the NFL, have filed collusion cases against the league, alleging owners have agreed to not sign them because of their protests. Kaepernick hasn't played in the NFL since 2016 and Reid, who became a free agent in mid-March, remains unsigned.
In 2016, York publicly supported Kaepernick's stance while matching the quarterback's $1 million donation to underserved communities. Last year, Reid consistently said his protest was being supported by York, who in September offered perhaps the most strongly worded statement in response to President Donald Trump's inflammatory comments about protesting NFL players. York termed Trump's remarks "callous" and "offensive" and he pledged to continue supporting 49er players "in their peaceful pursuit of positive change in this country."
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