Unveiling a new policy after months of controversy and debate over players taking a knee or otherwise making statements during the national anthem, the NFL says all of its athletes and staff "shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem" if they're on the field.
"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," the league said in its new policy.
The possibility that the NFL might issue a blanket restriction on protests during the anthem has been discussed for months, and the buzz gained new momentum this week. But the NFL Players Association says, "The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new 'policy.' "
The league's decision goes against what the NFL had told players "about the principles, values and patriotism of our league," the union said, adding that it will review the policy with an eye toward mounting challenges if elements of it contradict the current contract.
Athletes' behavior during the anthem and flag presentation became a national conversation and a political talking point after NFL players used the traditional opening of their games as a moment to protest police brutality and racism in America. That effort was led by former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee during the anthem — and who went from being a starting quarterback to being an unsigned free agent in the spring of 2017.