President Donald Trump weighed in once again on the National Football League national anthem policy today, calling for harsh measures if players refuse to stand at attention during the song’s performance before games.
“The NFL National Anthem Debate is alive and well again – can’t believe it!” Trump tweeted. “Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart? The $40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!”
Trump’s remarks came after last night’s announcement by the NFL and NFL Players Association, who issued a joint statement that league and team policies regarding conduct during the national anthem will not be issued or enforced for several weeks as part of a standstill agreement between the two sides.
That announcement came as word broke of a special plan by the Miami Dolphins to punish players. The league and the Players Association were already headed to an independent arbitration on the anthem policy, but the revelation of the Dolphins plans clearly moved up the timeframe.
The Dolphins owner, Stephen Ross, walked back the anthem punishment controversy today, saying the Dolphins policy revealed by the Associated Press in a policy handbook was meant as a “placeholder,” and the team has not decided what it will do if players protested. The handbook indicated they could face up to a four-game suspension.
“We haven’t made a decision on what we would do, if anything, at that point,” Ross said in a statement released by the Dolphins on Friday.
Training camps open for rookies this week, and the pre-season starts Aug. 2 with the Hall of Fame game between the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears.
The decision for a standstill temporarily avoids a potentially ugly dispute between the league and players who have become increasingly vocal about their right to protest during the national anthem. The Players Association contends that banning protests infringes on the players’ civil rights.
Under the current collective bargaining agreement, players can be fined a week’s salary or suspended up to four games for incidents deemed “conduct detrimental to the club,” which is the language contained in the Dolphins discipline manual.
The NFL was plagued last season with an anthem dispute that dominated headlines and, at times, threatened to overshadow the games. Sponsors, advertisers, and fans all chose sides in the dispute, while television ratings plummeted and the league endured negative publicity, including blasts from President Donald Trump several times.
The league solution was to come out with a new policy in May. The new rule said all players on the field must stand at attention during the anthem. Those that did not wish to do that should stay in the locker rooms. Teams would be fined for violations of the rules, and individual teams could take further steps. Today’s Dolphins reveal was the first indication that some teams planned to take such actions, creating a potential schism between employers and employees.
Now there’s a cooling-off period where the policy can be refined.