Trump Renews Attacks on Kneeling Players as NFL Opts Not to Punish Them

“If the players stood proudly for our Flag and Anthem, maybe ratings would come back?”

Former San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid and quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneel during the national anthem in September 2016. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

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As the 2018 football season kicks off, the NFL has opted not to punish players who kneel during the national anthem. But that’s not stopping President Donald Trump from attacking players who don’t stand during the anthem.

On Sunday, Trump lobbed his latest Twitter tirade, writing, “If the players stood proudly for our Flag and Anthem, and it is all shown on broadcast, maybe ratings would come back?”

The league’s first full day of games begins amid news that the league will not punish players who kneel during the anthem. According to ESPN, negotiations on the issue have stalled, and so the league has decided the best policy is no policy for the time being. 

Back in May, the NFL’s owners announced a policy requiring all players and league personnel on the sideline to stand for the national anthem, but the policy gave them the option to stay in the locker room if they chose not to stand. That announcement caused the NFL Players Association to file a grievance against the league, arguing that the policy was decided without consultation from the players’ union and violated players’ rights to free speech.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 as a way to protest the killing of unarmed black people by police in America. Kaepernick, once one of the NFL’s most electrifying stars, opted out of his contract with the rebuilding 49ers after that season ended and has been a free agent ever since.

Last October, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL, arguing that team owners have conspired to keep him out of the league because of his silent protest and outspoken activism. Just before this season kicked off, Nike, the NFL’s official sponsor and a longtime marketer of rebellion against authority, announced that Kaepernick is the new face of its 30th-anniversary Just Do It ad campaign with the tag line “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” 

Sales jumped 31 percent. Rebellion, it seems, is good for business.

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This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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