NFL and NBA have different rules for how high-paid athletes should respect national anthem

by WorldTribune Staff, September 25, 2017

Unlike the NBA, the NFL’s 2017 rulebook makes no mention of what players must do during the playing of the national anthem.

A rumor that is circulating the web that a rule mandating players stand for the anthem does exist seems to be just that – a rumor.

Buffalo Bills players kneel during the national anthem prior to an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos on Sept. 24 in Orchard Park, New York. / AP

Snopes notes that Rule 4 of the 2017 version of the Official Playing Rules of the National Football League, which covers Game Timing, “states only that both teams must be on the field before the scheduled start time of the first and second halves, and must initially appear on the field at least 10 minutes early in order to allow sufficient time for warming up.”

In August 2016, the NFL issued a statement proclaiming that “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.”

The NBA, on the other hand, does have a rule that states “Players, coaches, and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the national anthem.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver expressed support for the rule last year, telling Bleacher Report: “I’d only say that we have a rule that requires players to stand respectfully for the anthem. That is our rule. I’m not going to prejudge any player conduct. We’ll deal with any situations that present themselves. But I’ve been very clear that our expectation is that our players will stand for the anthem.”

In the NFL, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the practice of kneeling on the sidelines during the playing of the national anthem in what he said was a symbolic gesture signaling his opposition to racial injustice in America.

On Sept. 24, players on several teams took a knee during the anthem. The entire Pittsburgh Steelers’ team, with the exception of one player, remained in the locker room.

President Donald Trump tweeted: “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!”

The rumor circulating the web states that a specific rule pertaining to the national anthem is found on pages A62 and A63 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.”

In the 2017 version of the Official Playing Rules of the National Football League, pages 62 and 63 contain only regulations about the enforcement of fouls committed on the field during gameplay.

“Nowhere else does that document specify anything about the either the playing of the national anthem prior to games or the required behavior of players and team personnel during that ceremony. In fact, the rulebook makes no mention of the national anthem at all,” Snopes noted.


Rule 5, which covers Players, Substitutes, Equipment, and General Rules, does include (in Article 8) a section prohibiting players from “conveying personal messages” throughout the game day while they are visible to fans in attendance and television audiences, and from “convey[ing] messages, through helmet decals, arm bands, jersey patches, or other items affixed to game uniforms or equipment, which relate to political activities or causes …”: 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.”

Snopes noted: “Could this article be interpreted as requiring NFL players to stand on the sidelines during the national anthem? The latter part would not seem to apply, as players who kneel or remain in the locker room during the playing of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ are not wearing, or affixing to their uniforms, any symbols related to their protest. The first part seemingly provides league officials broad latitude to determine what constitutes a “personal message.”

James Dator noted in addressing this issue on SBNATION, it’s unlikely that section could or would be applied to the current protests: “Despite claims over what is or isn’t ‘acceptable,’ none of them hold weight. Potential disciplinary action over how players act during the anthem would need to be in place under the collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA, and to make matters more complicated, several states that have teams also extend first-amendment protection to employees of private businesses while at work.”


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