Protesting and Football
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Sports and Health

Protesting and Football

NFL rules against taking a knee


  • May, 2018: The National Football League (NFL) announced that all NFL players and staff "shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem" if they're on the field. [NPR]

  • The policy is a response to players "taking a knee" during the national anthem.


Players are not required to be on the field

during the national anthem.

A team will be fined if its players are on the field and do not stand and "show respect for the flag and the anthem" [NFL].

Players can stay in the locker room,

or elsewhere that is off the field.

The NFL commissioner "will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect" [NFL].

nfl protests football 84365 c0 445 5214 3485 s885x516The Washington Times

Eric Reid (35) and Colin Kaepernick (7) kneeling during the national anthem.

  • Taking a knee started in August 2016 by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and safety Eric Reed. [The New York Times]

  • President Trump has tweeted against the protests, and praised the NFL's decision. [The New York Times]

  • President Trump suggested that protesting the national anthem should be a reason to fire someone from a professional team, or even be removed from the country. [The Chicago Tribune]

"Well, I think that's good. I don't think people should be staying in locker rooms, but still, I think it's good.


You have to stand, proudly, for the national anthem or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there, maybe you shouldn't be in the country."

-President Donald Trump, in an interview with Fox News [NBC News].



The right to protest or form a peaceful assembly is "at the core of the First Amendment." [ACLU] This peaceful form of protest has many questioning if it crosses a line or not.


The reason

Colin Kaepernick originally stated his reason for kneeling during the national anthem was to support the #blacklivesmatter movement and call attention to police brutality and racial injustice. [Aljazeera]


Read "In their own words" for more reasons why players are protesting. 



Free speech

Protesting is a form of free speech and is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. [National Constitution Center]


Some view this policy as restricting free speech protected under the constitution. [The Washington Post]



Public support

According to a 2017 PBS poll, about 48% of Americans believed the protests were "a respectful way to draw attention to their concerns." [PBS]



Those against the protest believe not standing is a sign of disrespect to the country, especially to those that have died to protect freedom. [The New York Times]



Losing Fans

According to owners of NFL teams, large numbers of fans and sponsors are angry about the protests by players. This has caused boycotts, burning of jerseys, and a decline in TV ratings. [The New York Times]


According to a 2017 PBS poll, about 46% of Americans believed the protests are "disrespectful." [PBS]



In the contract

A standard NFL player's contract contains language that allows the team to terminate players based on "personal conduct"and "public respect" for the game. [The Washington Post]

"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."

-Colin Kaepernick, former 49ners quarterback


  • To support their players, some NFL owners and coaches have told their players they will personally pay for fines. [The New York Times], [Newday]

  • Since starting the protest, Kaepernick and Reed are unsigned (unemployed) from the NFL, despite an impressive and talented career thus far. [The New York Times]

  • Kaepernick was Time Person Of The Year 2017 runner-up [Time], and has recently become the face of a "Just Do It" ad. [The Wall Street Journal]
  • Vice President Mike Pence left an NFL game of his home team after players kneeled during the anthem. [Fox News]


  • Read more about President Trump uninviting the Super Bowl Champions, Philadelphia Eagles, from attending the White House. [Newsweek]

  • NFL coaches responses appeared to be divided geographically. [The New York Times]

  • Read and know your rights as a citizen at a protest.
  • Should the president be vocal about private organizations or institutions?

“Protest isn’t supposed to be comfortable. It’s not supposed to happen in the shadows. It’s supposed to disrupt.


Patriotism is demanding America uphold the ideals it was founded on: equality and justice for all. Patriotism is pledging allegiance to democratic values, not to symbols or songs. Patriotism is dissent.”

-Jeff Robinson, American Civil Liberties Union's legal director [The New York Times]

Key Vocabulary