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Taking a Knee

The NFL changes policy on the peaceful protest

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  • 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 was a response to players "taking a knee" during the national anthem.


Players were not required to be on the field

during the national anthem.

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

Players could 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]

  • Kaepernick started this protest in support of the #blacklivesmatter movement and to call attention to police brutality and racial injustice in America. [Aljazeera]

  • 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]



CIVICS: The right to protest or form a peaceful assembly is "at the core of the First Amendment." [ACLU] 


SOCIAL: This peaceful form of protest has many questioning if it crosses a civic disrespect line or not.


"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



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 News Hour]


"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]




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 News Hour]



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]


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

  • Kaepernick was TIME Person Of The Year 2017 runner-up and became the face of a Nike "Just Do It" ad. [The Wall Street Journal]

  • Oct 2017: Vice President Mike Pence left an NFL game of his home team after players kneeled during the anthem. [Reuters]
  • May 2020: Protests erupted across the country after George Floyd, a Black American, was killed by police kneeling on his neck. [The Washington Post]
  • Jun. 2020: Commissioner Goodell reversed the rule, saying the league supports the peaceful protest and was "wrong" to enact the 2018 policy. [The Guardian]
  • July 2020: MLB opening games saw players taking a knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. [The Boston Globe]


  • Since starting the protest, Kaepernick and Reed are unsigned (unemployed) by the NFL. [The New York Times]

  • Are there other outlets for players to demonstrate their first amendment rights?

  • Should the federal government be doing more to address police brutality?

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