Are NFL Players Required to Stand During the National Anthem? What the League’s Rulebook Says

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Most NFL players on Sunday opted for a show of unity, locking arms ahead of their games after criticism from President Trump who slammed players for protesting during the national anthem.

Still, despite Trump’s tweets, plenty of players did kneel during the national anthem —  and a lot of people of people have been chiming in with their opinions.

One excerpt purporting to be from the NFL rulebook pertaining to the national anthem has been making the rounds on social media:

“The specific NFL rule pertaining to the national anthem is found on pages A62-63 of the 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 result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.”

The excerpt being shared on social media, however, is not in the NFL’s 2017 Official Playing Rules. Instead, pages 62 and 63 contain information about the enforcement of fouls.

In fact, the rulebook doesn’t mention the national anthem at all. The only section possibly relating to this situation is in regards to “Personal Messages” found on page 23, article 8.

The rule about personal messages states:

“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.”

(You can view the complete 2017 NFL Rulebook here.)

While the rulebook does not discuss the national anthem, it is mentioned explicitly in the NFL’s game operations manual, according to Time.

A league spokesman listed the passage to Time, and it appears to be the same one that was either falsely or erroneously attributed to the rulebook.

“It’s policy, it’s not a rule. I think where people are getting confused is, rules, that’s like holding or defensive pass interference, that’s a rule. This is policy,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the Indianapolis Star.

And, as he noted to CNN last year, “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.”

No penalties will be assessed for those who did not go out to the field for, or kneeled during, the national anthem, according to McCarthy.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information from the league’s game operations manual.

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