Does The NFL Have A Rule Requiring Players To Stand During The National Anthem?

by Richard Cameron

If you have been following the debate on the sideline protests in the NFL on social media and in forums, you have heard people making claims and counter-claims about whether the National Football League has a rule mandating that players must stand during the national anthem.

The notion here, underlines the controversy of whether athletes are violating league rules prohibiting players from not observing patriotic rituals in one certain manner. Donald Trump, himself, is under the impression that the players are violating league rules. 

Is there such a rule?  I’ll keep you in suspense for a moment or two, while we examine the facts regarding this. A post has been circulating on Facebook that purports that the following verbiage is from the NFL League Rulebook:

“The specific rule pertaining to the national anthem is found on pages A62-63 of the NFL League Rulebook. It states: ‘The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem. ‘During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should ensure that the American flag is in good condition… …It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. 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 only slight problem here, is that there is no such clause in the NFL rules. The above passage is completely fictionalized.  It doesn’t exist!

the NFL logo painted on the football field playing surface

A review of the NFL 2017 Offical Playing Rules reveals that there is no mention of the National Anthem, anywhere in it.   There aren’t even any pages in the rulebook marked “A62” or “A63”. Pages 62-63 in the rulebook cover rules for enforcing fouls during play.

So, what all does the NFL rulebook have to say, if anything about player conduct?  Nothing particular about conduct, per se, but does have some guidelines about uniforms and player appearance. 

In  Article 8 under Section 4, “EQUIPMENT, UNIFORMS, PLAYER APPEARANCE.”  The rule states that:

“Throughout the period on game-day that a player is visible to the stadium and television audience (including in pregame warm-ups, in the bench area, and during postgame interviews in the locker room or on the field), players are prohibited from wearing, displaying, or otherwise conveying personal messages either in writing or illustration, unless such message has been approved in advance by the League office. Items to celebrate anniversaries or memorable events, or to honor or commemorate individuals, such as helmet decals, and arm bands and jersey patches on players’ uniforms, are prohibited unless approved in advance by the League office. All such items approved by the League office, if any, must relate to team or League events or personages.

The League will not grant permission for any club or player to wear, display, or otherwise convey messages, through helmet decals, arm bands, jersey patches, or other items affixed to game uniforms or equipment, which relate to political activities or causes, other non-football events, causes or campaigns, or charitable causes or campaigns. Further, any such approved items must be modest in size, tasteful, non-commercial, and noncontroversial; must not be worn for more than one football season; and if approved for use by a specific team, must not be worn by players on other teams in the League.”

As you can see, the rulebook spells out specifics having particularly to do with uniforms and apparel – and not having to do with whether an athlete opts to stand or sit during the performance of the National Anthem.

Oakland Raiders sideline - players sitting and kneeling during patriotic observances

Some will say that the verbiage about “conveying personal messages” in this section is pertinent, but it is not.

Note carefully the reference to “postgame interviews”.  Postgame interviews have everything to do with insights about the game and the player themselves that are personal, so there is clearly nothing dealing with the observance of the National Anthem involved.

On page 12 of the playing rules, there is a requirement that players appear on the field least 10 minutes before kickoff, however that refers to physical warmup regimens to acclimate to the weather conditions and that is commenced long before the pre-game ceremonies are conducted. 

NFL Spokesman Brian McCarthy was asked in August 2016, by the sports media about Colin Kaepernick’s having taken a knee during the anthem.  According to NBC Sports, McCarthy wrote in a statement that “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.”  Encouraged but “not required”. How much clearer that statement could be is not a matter of interpretation. 

So then, what we have learned here, was that at least in reference to the official rules of the NFL that teams are obligated to comply with – there are no regulations in force, dealing with whether the player must observe patriotic rituals in a particular manner.  

If a particular team owner decides to instruct players to conduct pre-game behavior in a particular manner, is a matter between that owner and the athletes, not a matter of NFL jurisdiction. We have seen that NFL owners are trying to pursue a compromise on the player protest issue that will satisfy their employees and patrons of the game, alike.  How successful that will be and how it is navigated remains to be seen in the coming weeks.

What we have also seen, which should not come as any surprise –  is that the alt-Right, clickbait, fake news universe of parasites has found yet another means by which to exploit the bottomless pit of gullibility and imperviousness to facts characteristic among Trump’s core base of voters.

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