NFL owners approve national anthem policy for 2018

The NFL will enact a national anthem policy for 2018 that requires players and league personnel on the sideline to stand but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if they don't want to stand, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Wednesday.

Under the change approved by team owners at the Spring League Meeting, individual clubs will have the power to set their own policies to ensure the anthem is being respected during any on-field action. If a player chooses to protest on the sideline, the NFL will fine the team. The player also could be fined by his team, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network's Judy Battista reported.

Goodell said the six changes under the policy were unanimously approved by team owners who voted. San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York said he abstained from voting, in part, due to the lack of player involvement in the decision process.

"The policy adopted today was approved in concert with the NFL's ongoing commitment to local communities and our country -- one that is extraordinary in its scope, resources, and alignment with our players," Goodell said in a statement. "We are dedicated to continuing our collaboration with players to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society.

"It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case."

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, one of the leaders of the Players Coalition, expressed his displeasure with the policy Wednesday.

"What NFL owners did today was thwart the players' constitutional rights to express themselves and use our platform to draw attention to social injustices like racial inequality in our country. Everyone loses when voices get stifled," Jenkins said in a statement.

"While I disagree with this decision, I will not let it silence me or stop me from fighting. The national conversation around race in America that NFL players forced over the past two years will persist as we continue to use our voices, our time and our money to create a more fair and just criminal justice system, end police brutality and foster better educational and economic opportunities for communities of color and those struggling in this country.

"For me, this has never been about taking a knee, raising a fist or anyone's patriotism but doing what we can to effect real change for real people. #thefightcontinues."

Jenkins' teammate, Eagles defensive end Chris Long, also released a statement on Twitter regarding the decision.

The NFL Players Association says it was not consulted about the new policy before owners voted on it.

Goodell said he plans to talk to the NFLPA directly about the anthem policy changes the league has adopted.

"Anything I have to say to the union, I'll say to them directly," Goodell said during a news conference. "I do that all the time. So I'd be more than happy to do that, but I will do that to them directly. But there have been incredible engagement with the players. We've talked to tens if not hundreds of players about this over the last year or so to get their input, to understand their position and, again, to respect them as I think we've stated here."

Vice President Mike Pence reacted to the news Wednesday on Twitter writing, "#Winning".

Speaking to NFL Network's Steve Wyche, York said he sent a text message to Richard Sherman -- an active NFLPA leader -- while the policy was being discussed by team owners to let him know what he thought the outcome would be. York added that the 49ers also might halt concession sales at Levi's Stadium during the playing of the national anthem, saying that he didn't think the team should "profit" during that time.

The change comes after players throughout the league chose not to stand during the anthem prior to the start of games during the 2017 season. The protests, which started in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the anthem to draw awareness to issues of social inequality against minorities, became a central issue for the NFL after President Trump criticized the movement during a speech last September, stating players should be fired for not standing.

After discussing the topic at length with team owners at the Fall League Meeting last year, Goodell said the NFL wouldn't force players to stand for the national anthem even though the league believed they should stand. That stance was modified Wednesday.

"To make a decision that strong you would hope the players would have input on it, but obviously not, so we have to deal with it as players," Browns quarterback Tyrod Taylor said about the policy. "Not a good or a bad thing but at the end of the day they call the shots and make the rules. So that's something we have to abide by. I think the main thing out of all of it is that each ballclub has an open communication between the players and the ownership on the issues that are going on in the community and trying to change it."

Off the field, the league has made a push to address social issues important to players. Working in conjunction with the Players Coalition, the league stepped up its efforts to support players on social issues important to them, dedicating $89 million to efforts combating social inequality.

"We think that we've come up with a balanced process here and the procedure in policy that will allow those players who feel that they can't stand for the anthem to stay in the locker room and there's no penalty for that," Goodell said. "But we are going to encourage all of them to be on the field. We'd like all of them to be on the field and stand at attention."