The NFL will not discipline those teams and players who refused to be on the field for the playing of the national anthem before games Sunday, league spokesman Joe Lockhart said Monday.
“There will be no discipline handed down this week,” Lockhart, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications and public affairs, said in a conference call with reporters.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans were not on the field for the anthem.
The NFL’s game operations manual says that “all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem.”
It also says: “Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.”
The NFL is waiving such discipline after a weekend in which Commissioner Roger Goodell, owners of teams, players and others reacted forcefully to comments made Friday by President Trump, who said at a campaign rally in Alabama that owners should fire players who refuse to stand for the national anthem as a means of protest.
“We also believe our players have a right to express themselves,” Lockhart said.
Lockhart called Sunday “an important day for the league and, we think, a good one.” He said the conversations involving the league office, owners, players and the NFL Players Association demonstrated the ability of everyone in the sport to work cooperatively in a crisis.
“I’ve never seen an event that more forcefully pulled together and united a group in defense of the game,” he said.
Lockhart, formerly the White House press secretary under President Clinton, also made a reference to the campaign incident in which The Washington Post obtained video of Trump talking in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women during a 2005 conversation.
“Everyone should know, including the president, this is what real locker room talk is,” Lockhart said.
Lockhart called Trump’s remarks regarding the sport’s player-safety rules “out of touch.” Trump said penalties for illegal hits were ruining the game.
There has been no direct dialogue between the league and the White House, Lockhart said.
“The president has chosen his form of dialogue, which is Twitter and statements …. If the president wants to engage in something that’s positive, productive and constructive, he has our number,” he said.
The NFL is not considering discontinuing the playing of the national anthem before games, Lockhart said. He would not speculate on the effect that the events of the weekend might have on the chances of quarterback Colin Kaepernick being signed by a team, calling that a matter for the individual clubs. Kaepernick remains out of work after refusing to stand for the anthem before games last season, while with the San Franicsco 49ers, to protest the treatment of African Americans in the United States. Other players followed Kaepernick’s lead.
Lockhart did not dismiss the importance of the events of the past few days.
“When the president of the United States calls anyone a son of a bitch, that’s a story,” he said.