Letter to NFL teams says the league will require players to stand during anthem
A letter sent to all 32 NFL teams by Commissioner Roger Goodell makes clear that the league wants to "move past" the anthem controversy. The league will propose a standardized policy on behavior during the playing of the National Anthem that will include all players and team personnel standing.
Previous policy said only that players "should" stand during the anthem.
The letter does not mention any punishment for players who refuse to stand, which makes enforcement of the policy problematic.
Goodell made it clear in the letter, obtained by ESPN's Adam Schefter, that he wants players to stand during the anthem. He did not provide specifics on how he intends to ensure it, but he wrote that it would "include such elements as an in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues."
The issue will be discussed, and likely acted upon, during the NFL's regularly-scheduled fall meetings on Oct. 17-18.
In the letter, Goodell said he wanted to end the controversy by agreeing on a uniform approach for all teams.
"Like many of our fans," Goodell wrote, "we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem. It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us.
"We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players."
The NFL's current anthem policy states that players "should" stand for the anthem, but it stops short of requiring it.
The proposed new policy is the result of "many of discussions with clubs and players," Goodell added.
Some owners, including Jerry Jones, owner of the NFL's keystone franchise, the Dallas Cowboys, has told his players in no uncertain terms that if they don't stand for the anthem, they won't play. But Jones is being sued by organized labor for his stand, and it's unclear whether he can legally enforce the policy.
Local 100 of the United Labor Unions has filed a complaint charging that Jones's implicit demands of players violated the National Labor Relations Act. "[T]he employer, evidenced by repeated public statements, is attempting to threaten, coerce and intimidate all Dallas Cowboys players on the roster in order to prevent them from exercising concerted activity protected under the act by saying that he will fire any players involved in such concerted activity," the National Labor Relations Board said in its filing.
Jones has not actually threatened to fire players, instead saying they "will not play," but a labor union spokesman told ESPN that is a "distinction without difference when it comes to the law."
The NFL's game operations manual has said players "should" stand for the anthem, a stance NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reaffirmed Tuesday in a memo to team owners. "Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem," Goodell wrote. But there's a gap between "should" and "must," and in trying to bridge that gap, Jones overreached, the labor union contends.
The NLRB will investigate the case and will take it to trial if it determines a violation occurred and a settlement can't be reached.
Meanwhile, Jones appeared to moderate his stance the tiniest bit on Tuesday, allowing for the possibility of pre-anthem protests similar to what the Cowboys did prior to their game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3. "If we're going to have any other recognition the place to have it is before the anthem in my view and be real clear that it's not associated with the anthem," Jones told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. "I think it's real important for our players that they have that to reply to anybody whether they're asking them to express themselves or not that the way we do it where I work, where I earn my livelihood, is that we stand for the flag."
It's impossible to overstate the distraction that Jones has created in the Cowboys' locker room, as well as others across the NFL. Players must decide whether paychecks outweigh principles, and star players must decide whether to take the heat for lesser-known teammates. This story isn't going away, and it's no longer just the players driving the narrative.
So the issue is far from being settled, and Goodell's letter may have even made the situation worse for the owners. By this point, with TV ratings dropping, ticket sales plummeting, and the fan's perception of the NFL going south, owners are frantic to get the issue behind them.
The reality is, it's their own fault. This mess was created because owners conceded the moral high ground to players and refused to punish them for disrespecting the flag. Now that they seek to reverse that policy, they may not have a legal or moral leg to stand on.
They have sown the wind. They must now reap the whirlwind.