On Wednesday, they announced a new policy that will require all players and personnel that are on the field during the anthem to stand while the anthem is played.
The NFL approved a new national-anthem policy on Wednesday in response to ongoing player protests that took over the 2017 season, and the league appears to have caved to the wishes of President Donald Trump and others who stressed the importance of "respecting the flag". Since the new policy is a change in the terms and conditions of employment that was not collectively bargained, any attempts to fine individual players would surely be opposed by the union.
The league has attempted to strike a careful balance among several constituencies, including more hard-line owners such as Jerry Jones of the Cowboys and Robert McNair of the Texans, who have demanded that players stand, and more liberal owners including Jeffrey Lurie of the Super Bowl champion Eagles and Jets chairman Christopher Johnson, who have not stood in the way of player protests during the anthem.
"I will support our players wherever we land as a team", Johnson said. The NFL hasn't gone that far, but Kaepernick has yet to land another job and one of his former teammates and fellow protesters, safety Eric Reid, is also out of work.
The issue of how to handle player protests of kneeling during the pre-game playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" has loomed over the NFL club owners meeting in Atlanta, with the sport anxious to avoid a repeat of the controversy that divided the league last season. "Our union will review the new 'policy" and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement".
"We want people to be respectful to the National Anthem", Goodell said. "Either it's going to be a team thing and everybody stays in the locker room or everybody goes out and stands".
"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", he said in the statement.
The change in policy comes after some players elected against standing for the national anthem.
"I don't believe that they should have the option to kneel", one man said.
Teams could be fined by the league if their players sit or kneel, as many have done in protest of racial injustice and police brutality in recent seasons after NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick's initial kneeling protest in 2016 earned nationwide attention. About a dozen Ravens, along with franchise icon Ray Lewis, knelt during the anthem before the team's game in London against the Jacksonville Jaguars last September.
York said he meant to meet with his players to discuss the change. "Though we encourage our players to stand during the national anthem, we respect and support their right to express their personal beliefs".
"I understand, but a little respect does not hurt", Robin Rider said. Cowboys owner Stephen Jones said there is no fine schedule for anthem-related penalties and that owners will know disrespect "when we see it".
York said other initiatives were in the works, including a suspension of all concessions sales during the national anthem. We're not forcing anyone to stand who doesn't want to, but those who are on the field are going to be asked to stand. "We want people to stand, that's all personnel, and make sure that they treat this moment in a respectful fashion that's something I think we owe".