The NFL said Thursday that it will not discipline players for any protests during the national anthem while it attempts to reach a resolution with the NFL Players Association over its anthem policy.
But the league reiterated that it expects players who are on the field to stand for the anthem. Players have the option to remain in the locker room during the anthem if they choose, the NFL said.
The league’s statement came as protests by some players during the national anthem resumed Thursday night when the NFL began its first full slate of preseason games.
“The NFL has been engaged in constructive discussions with the NFL Players Association regarding the anthem and issues of equality and social justice that are of concern to many Americans,” the league said in a written statement issued through a league spokesman. “While those discussions continue, the NFL has agreed to delay implementing or enforcing any club work rules that could result in players being disciplined for their conduct during the performance of the anthem.”
But the league said it still wants players to stand for the anthem while the deliberations with the NFLPA proceed.
“Meanwhile, there has been no change in the NFL’s policy regarding the national anthem,” the league’s statement said. “The anthem will continue to be played before every game, and all player and non-player personnel on the field at that time are expected to stand during the presentation of the flag and performance of the anthem. Personnel who do not wish to do so can choose to remain in the locker room.
“We remain committed to working with the players to identify solutions and to continue making progress on important social issues affecting our communities.”
In Miami, Dolphins wide receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson knelt before the team’s preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to reports. Dolphins defensive end Robert Quinn reportedly raised his right fist. In Philadelphia, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback De’Vante Bausby each raised a first during the anthem, according to accounts.
Jenkins wrote on Twitter earlier Thursday: “Before we enjoy this game let[‘]s take some time to ponder that more than 60% of the prison population are people of color. The NFL is made up of 70% African Americans. What you witness on the field does not represent the reality of everyday America. We are the anomalies…”
Jenkins and other Eagles players wore shirts on the field before the game citing statistics about prison populations and voting rights of former prisoners.
In Jacksonville, Jaguars running backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Telvin Smith were not on the field for the playing of the anthem before their game against the New Orleans Saints. They emerged from the tunnel to the field after the anthem, according to the Florida Times-Union.
In Seattle, Seahawks players Duane Brown, Quinton Jefferson and Branden Jackson reportedly were in the tunnel to the locker room for the anthem. In San Francisco, Marquise Goodwin of the 49ers raised his fist.
The renewed round of protests come while the NFL and the NFLPA attempt to negotiate a resolution of the league’s national anthem policy. Multiple people close to the situation said in recent days they remain uncertain how those deliberations would turn out.
The NFLPA declined comment on Thursday’s protests. No players protested during the anthem at last week’s Hall of Fame Game between the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears in Canton, Ohio, which opened the preseason.
In May, NFL owners ratified a modified anthem policy which empowered the league to fine a team if a player protests during the anthem and left it up to each team whether a player would be disciplined for a protest. The policy also gave players the option to remain in the locker room during the anthem.
The union filed a grievance over the May policy and contemplated possible legal action. The league and union agreed to put both implementation of the NFL’s new policy and the NFLPA’s grievance on hold while trying to work out a resolution.
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