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NFL And Players Union Agree To Freeze National Anthem Rule


People are talking today about the NFL's decision to hit pause on its new national anthem policy. Team owners adopted the policy back in May. It would require players to stand for the anthem before games or face fines. And that was going to start this coming season. But late last night, the league and the players union announced a freeze on the policy. To discuss this, NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now. Hey, Tom.


SHAPIRO: Before we get into the reaction, tell us what exactly the NFL and the union announced.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. They announced what they're calling a standstill agreement. Now, last week, the union filed a grievance against the NFL's new anthem policy. And as part of this standstill agreement, the union agreed to put the grievance on hold. Now, the NFL agreed to put its new policy on hold, meaning no new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks. And what they're doing - they're doing this while they engage in what they call confidential discussions to try to resolve the issue.

SHAPIRO: And what has the reaction been?

GOLDMAN: Lots of chatter as I'm sure you're not surprised to hear. This has been such a contentious issue. A quick scan on Twitter finds people weighing in on both sides of the divide over whether or not players should protest during the national anthem, an action that began in 2016 with former quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling as a way to bring attention to police treatment of minorities and social inequality.

Here's a quick random twitter sample. The NFL put out the national anthem protest policy temporarily on hold. When are wealthy, old white men going to wake up and realize that black men kneeling peacefully isn't un-American but that presidents standing next to and lusting after authoritarian leaders is?

And from the other side of the great divide, any NFL player that kneels during the national anthem should be forced to give up their salary and do a tour of duty in Iraq. And, Ari, the kind of comment that probably hits the league hardest - one person tweets that if players keep protesting, quote, "I'll just keep turning the TV off. I found out last year just how easily it was to live without the NFL."

SHAPIRO: Well, speaking of Twitter, President Trump has been very vocal on this issue. What has his reaction to this latest development been?

GOLDMAN: He actually has - he's a very busy man, as you well know. But he actually tweeted out this afternoon the following. The NFL national anthem debate is alive and well again - can't believe it. Isn't it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart? The $40 million commissioner, meaning Roger Goodell, must now make a stand - first time kneeling, out for game; second time kneeling, out for season, no pay - no word from the NFL or the union whether the president's suggestions will be part of the discussions they're currently having.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: My guess would be no. They don't want to pour gasoline on the issue. They instead want to reach some sort of resolution that's palatable to all. But once again, Ari, the president is wading into this issue, promising to make it even more political - excuse me - and contentious at a time when the NFL and the union are trying to tamp things down.

SHAPIRO: Just in our last minute or so, what can you tell us about the discussions that are going on between the NFL and the union?

GOLDMAN: Well, the discussions include players, union and league representatives. They are happening on a regular basis. There's no set timeline other than the several weeks mentioned in last night's standstill agreement announcement. The NFL certainly is aware that preseason games will begin August 2. And, Ari, when the games start, so do the anthems.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.
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