The National Football League will now punish teams if players kneel during the national anthem, handing a win to President Donald Trump who had demanded consequences for the mostly African-American players using the gesture to protest racism.
Players will no longer be required to be on the field during the anthem, the NFL announced on Wednesday, but those who are will be required to stand. Demonstrations such as kneeling will result in a fine against the demonstrator’s team.
“A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem,” the new policy said. The statement goes on to say that the league commissioner “will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.”
The NFL’s move marks a clear culture war victory for Trump, who repeatedly railed against players who kneeled during the anthem and encouraged fans to boycott the league unless there was a change in policy. Vice President Mike Pence went so far as to attend an Indianapolis Colts game only to walk out after some players kneeled during the anthem.
Trump returned to the issue repeatedly, both at rallies and on Twitter, firing up crowds with his condemnations of the protests.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!” Trump declared at one rally.
“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect.... … ...our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” Trump tweeted in September.
He argued that his criticisms had nothing to do with race, though the protests began when San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick, an African-American, refused to stand for the anthem to protest racial injustice.
The NFL Players Association released a statement on Wednesday criticizing the new policy as inconsistent with statements made by Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“Our union will review the new ‘policy’ and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement,” the NFLPA said in a written statement.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.