National News

49ers' owner abstains as NFL adopts anthem policy requiring players to stand

Posted May 23, 2018 6:27 p.m. EDT

SAN FRANCISCO -- 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 approved a new policy that will require all players to stand during the anthem this season, the league announced today.

Commissioner Roger Goodell said the policy was approved unanimously at the spring owners meetings in Atlanta, but 49ers CEO Jed York, who was consistently supported his players' right to protest, told reporters he abstained from voting. York said he abstained partly because he wanted to receive more input from players. He also said he planned to halt concession sales during the anthem.

``I don't think we should be profiting if we're going to put this type of attention and focus on the field and on the flag,'' York said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The new policy 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.

The NFL said each team can develop its own work rules regarding the national anthem, provided they are consistent with the league's stance. It also states Goodell ``will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.''

``This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem,'' 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.''

At a press conference, Goodell was asked why the NFL is policing the issue and determining what constitues disrepect of the anthem.

``I think the general public has a very strong view of what respect for the flag is in that moment,'' Goodell said. ``We have language in our policy that talks about that; standing at attention, hats off, focused.''

Jets chairman Christopher Johnson isn't fully on board with the NFL's policy. Johnson told Newsday he prefers that players stand, but appreciates that the issues surrounding the issue are complex and understood if some Jets felt compelled to protest.

``There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions,'' Johnson said. ``If the team gets fined, that's just something I'll have to bear.''

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.

On Wednesday, Goodell said the NFL had ``incredible engagement'' with players on the anthem issue and had spoken with ``tens, if not hundreds'' of them over the past year.

The 49ers have been at the forefront of the debate since Kaepernick began his protest during the preseason in 2016, and York has proven to be among the league's more progressive owners during that time. 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.

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 Trump's inflammatory comments about protesting NFL players.

Trump referred to such a player as a ``son of bitch.'' 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.''

In October, shortly after Goodell issued a memo to all 32 teams in which he encouraged players to stand, Reid said York had ``expressed very clearly that he wants to support us. That he's not going to force us to do anything.''

Later that month, a players coalition that initially included Reid, met with Goodell, team owners and executives to discuss players kneeling during the anthem. Reid later broke from the coalition before it reached an agreement with the NFL, which pledged to contribute $89 million to social-justice causes. After the agreement, players who had been raising a fist during the anthem -- including Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins -- stopped protesting.

Reid said he left the coalition in November after he received a text message from Jenkins asking if he would stop protesting if the NFL donated money.

``I give kudos to the NFL for wanting to step up and help us with regard to systemic oppression,'' Reid said at the time. ``I question their intent behind it. I personally think they just want the protests to end because it's affecting their bottom line.''

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.

Vice President Mike Pence, who left the 49ers' game at Indianapolis in October after players knelt during the anthem, responded to the NFL's policy on Twitter. Pence wrote ``#Winning'' with an icon of an American flag above a headline announcing the NFL's decision.