Franchise owner Stephen Ross said in a statement Friday that the policy “was a placeholder as we haven’t made a decision on what we would do, if anything, at that point.”
Ross said the NFL asked the team to submit its “overall discipline policy” before rookies reported to camp and team officials included the “conduct detrimental to the club” language as a placeholder until the league and players union resolved the issue.
The Associated Press first reported the possibility of four-game suspensions Thursday, claiming to have obtained a nine-page discipline document submitted to the NFL. Under a leaguewide policy adopted in May, all NFL personnel on the field during pregame renditions of the national anthem must “stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.”
Players were given the option of remaining in the locker room during the anthem, but if they violated the policy while on the field, their teams would be subject to fines from the NFL. The announced policy left it up to teams themselves to decide whether and how they might discipline their players, and while each franchise was required to create an overall discipline policy by the start of training camps, which began this week, none have been made public.
“Since the rookies reported [to camp] on Wednesday, [the Dolphins] had to have a policy in place,” a person with the team told the Miami Herald. “We will address this once the season starts, and all options are still on the table.”
The Dolphins are not committing themselves at this point to any particular penalty for a player who protests, according to a person familiar with the team’s planning, who added: “We will address this issue once the season starts. All options are still open.”
Under the collective bargaining agreement, the maximum penalty that a team can assess for conduct detrimental to the club is a four-game suspension without pay. The Dolphins thus classified a protest by a player during the anthem as conduct detrimental to the team and outlined the maximum possible penalty.
Later on Thursday, the NFL and NFLPA released a joint statement announcing a “standstill agreement” regarding both the league’s anthem policy and the NFLPA’s grievance against it.
In March, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross denied a report claiming that he had said, “All of our players will be standing,” at an event in New York in which he was honored by the Jackie Robinson Foundation. “I have no intention of forcing our players to stand during the anthem, and I regret that my comments have been misconstrued,’’ Ross said.
Ross added at the time that he was “passionate about the cause of social justice” but felt that “kneeling is an ineffective tactic that alienates more people than it enlists.” Beginning with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016, some players have been kneeling or sitting during the anthem to bring attention to the issue of racial injustice, in particular police brutality.
Some other players have stood while raising their fists, including Tennessee Titans defensive end Jurrell Casey, who has made the gesture just after the anthem was performed for the past two seasons. On Wednesday, Casey claimed that he would not allow the league’s new policy stop him from continuing to “protest during the flag,” saying, “I’m going to take my fine.”
“Around the NFL, guys are definitely not happy about it,” Casey said. “I feel it’s not right, I don’t think it was a good decision for the NFL to come up with that ruling.”
Casey made his comments while at an NFL promotional event in London, and a Titans official said Thursday that the team wanted to speak with the three-time Pro Bowler when he returned from England. “We think there may be some misunderstanding on his part. Because the new league policy does not provide anywhere that fines are made against players,” Titans President and CEO Steve Underwood said (via The Tennessean).
“If a player doesn’t stand, the teams can be fined, but not the players,” Underwood continued. “There are two things that can happen that are considered to be legitimate under the policy: stay in the locker room, or you can stand respectfully during the anthem. And it doesn’t apply just to the players; it applies to every employee of ours. So, we’re not exactly sure why he suggested that he would, as he put, ‘take his fine’ because there will be no fines levied against him.”
When the policy was announced in May, Jets Chairman Christopher Johnson said that his players could conduct themselves during the anthem as their consciences saw fit, saying, “I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players.”
Wide receiver Kenny Stills has been among a handful of Dolphins players to kneel during the anthem — two others are no longer on the team — and he said in May after the policy was announced that he wasn’t sure if he would continue doing so. “When the time comes when I have to make a decision, then I’ll make a decision,” he said.
Stills bemoaned at the time how “the message has been changed” from the players’ emphasis on issues of racial injustice to polarizing discussions of their patriotism, or alleged lack thereof. “I just feel like from the beginning, if the narrative would have been set one way and the league would have had our backs and really put the message out there the right way, and tried to educate people on the work that we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Stills said, “we might be in a different place than we are right now.”
Mark Maske contributed to this report.