Cracks are starting to appear in the National Football League’s announced plan to have its players on the field stand at attention for the national anthem in the 2018 season, which starts in three months.
The Atlanta Falcons are the latest team to voice qualms about anthem procedure, which offers players who don’t wish to participate in standing at attention the option of staying in the locker room. Those that do not comply will subject their team to fines.
The national anthem issue is beginning to surface as teams gather for the pre-season organized team activities before training camp starts in July. Last year, anthem protests were a toxic subject that dominated the season, as players kneeling, sitting, and raising fists during the national anthem caused fan anger, sponsorship and advertiser fallout, and may have contributed to an overall decline in television ratings. Several meetings between players and owners failed to resolve the issue, although the league said it would contribute $100 million to social activist causes, hoping that bribe would end the division.
The league was hoping to avoid repeating the polarizing demonstration this season by instituting its new anthem policy, which replaced the suggestion that players “should” stand with more formal instructions.
But the new rule’s reception has been decidedly mixed by players, with some already vowing not to change their protests. The NFL decision was, however, well-received by President Donald Trump, who had condemned anthem-kneelers.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the Falcons plan to let the team’s players decide what they will do. They will do it together, according to team coach Dan Quinn. Last year, the Falcons stood last year on all but one occasion, when two players knelt for one game in response to President Donald Trump calling kneelers “sons of bitches.” For the other games, Falcons players locked arms in solidarity while the song played.
The New York Jets have voiced similar sentiments, but have not announced plans. The team’s owner, Christopher Johnson, has said he will support his players and pay any fines.
Michael Thomas, a safety for the New York Giants who last year knelt during the anthem as a member of the Miami Dolphins, indicated in an NJ.com report that he would discuss what to do in the coming season with teammates, something new head coach Pat Shurmur also indicated would happen.
“It’s bigger than us,” Thomas said. “A lot of people try to make it about something else than what it is. For me and my brothers, we know in our hearts why we’re doing it. Why we started to take this stance. We’re not going to let it get distorted. If we have to find different methods, different ways to get our message across and still work in the community, we’re going to do that. Not going to get emotionally hijacked by it right now.”
The NFL Players Association, which wasn’t consulted before the new national anthem policy was instituted, said the policy is being unilaterally imposed.