CENTENNIAL, Colo -- The NFL approved a revised anthem policy Wednesday, requiring players and team personnel to stand who are on the field, but permitting players who do not want to participate to remain the locker room.
The NFL portrayed the news as a compromise after the avalanche of criticism from fans, and most notably, President Donald Trump, who suggested last season owners "fire" players who kneel or disrespect the anthem and encouraged fans to walk out of stadiums. However, the NFL players union issued a statement Wednesday, saying the policy "contradicts the statements made to players" by the league and lamented that the players were not consulted.
“Our objective as a league is that we want people to be respectful of the national anthem,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday at the NFL’s owners meetings. “We want people to stand and make sure they treat this moment in a respectful fashion.”
Players on the field who don't stand for the anthem leave their teams subject to fines, and if that occurs, teams can dock individual players if they choose. Multiple executives told Denver7 they don't want to start fining players. In fact, Jets chairman Christopher Johnson said he would not levy fines on players who demonstrate or protest on the field.
"I do not like imposing any club-specific rules,” Johnson told Newsday. “If somebody (on the Jets) takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t."
Broncos CEO Joe Ellis plans to discuss the anthem issue with players early next week. He issued a statement today to the local media.
"It’s important that we discuss today’s developments with our players, and I’m looking forward to speaking with them as soon as possible. As we’ve said publicly as well as in conversations with our team and other constituents, we want all members of our organization to stand for the national anthem," Ellis said. "At the same time, we need to listen to our players and support the issues and causes that matter to them."
Broncos players Derek Wolfe, Matt Paradis and Domata Peko spoke with the press on Wednesday. All three said they will continue standing for the anthem, while respecting teammates who might choose to stay in the locker room.
"I think that's probably the best way to do it. The NBA has been doing it for 20 years and they haven't had a problem. I'm going to stand for the anthem," Wolfe said of the NBA, which fined former Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Raul in 1996 for not standing for the anthem. "I think I made that clear."
Not standing for the anthem became a controversial issue in 2016 when San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick first began kneeling to protest the treatment of African Americans in the United States. It reached a flashpoint last season after Trump's remarks in September.
Only 19 Broncos players stood for the anthem before their game against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 24. At that time, multiple sources told Denver7 those kneeling were responding directly to Trump's remarks before an audience in Alabama two days prior. Four days later, after coach Vance Joseph met with the players leadership council, the Broncos presented a united front. They determined as a team -- even though there was some dissent -- that they would stand.
"It was an emotional time for everyone, including the fans who support us each and every week. As controversial as it appeared, we needed to show our collective strength and resolve," a note from the players read.
The players clarified their protest for members of their fan base who felt they disrespected the U.S. military and the flag by kneeling or linking arms during the anthem.
"We have nothing but the deepest love and respect for those who protect our way of life and the freedoms we enjoy as Americans," the message read. "While there's no greater country, it's not perfect. Inequalities still exist, and we have work to do in ALL forms of social justice. We can all do better. We may have different values and beliefs, but there's one thing we all agree on: We're a team and we stand together — no matter how divisive some comments and issues can be, nothing should ever get in the way of that."
Following the lead of Kaepernick, his former college teammate at Nevada, Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall took a knee during the anthem for eight games during the 2016 season to raise awareness of social injustice. He helped prompt change in the Denver Police Department's use-of-force policy after meeting with police chief Robert White. Marshall's protests cost him multiple endorsements. He kneeled once last season in Buffalo. He is expected to talk with the media in the near future after digesting the policy change.
The previous NFL policy said players must be on the sidelines for the anthem, and recommended, but did not require, them to stand.