This May, the NFL announced a new policy—any team with a member who kneels during the National Anthem will have to pay a fine. The policy was decided by a vote of the team owners. Union representatives for the players were not aware of the decision until it was announced. This new policy is a change in tone from the attitudes the league expressed last year and is a further development in an ongoing controversy sparked by players’ decision to protest by taking a knee during the National Anthem. In August 2016, Colin Kaepernick made headlines for kneeling during the anthem in protest of violence perpetrated by police officers against people of color. Kaepernick no longer plays for the 49ers or any NFL team. Amnesty International recently honored him with the 2017 Ambassador of Conscience Award.
At an Alabama rally on September 22, President Donald Trump criticized the NFL and NFL team owners for not taking harsher action against players who protest during the playing of the national anthem at games. He is quoted referring to players who protest as “sons of bitches,” and claimed NFL owners should fire them for protesting. Trump also called out NFL fans, adding that if they would “leave the stadium” in the event of a protest, then “things would stop.”
As the NFL heads into its second week of the regular season, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, remains a free agent. With six years of professional experience and a Super Bowl ring, it is unusual that Kaepernick has yet to be signed by a team. Many suspect that teams are hesitant to sign Kaepernick because he is perceived as a potential PR concern. During the 2016 NFL preseason, Kaepernick began opting to sit or kneel rather than stand during the national anthem at games as protest against racial injustice and police violence. He was quoted saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”