MIAMI (AFP) – US President Donald Trump again goaded the NFL over its handling of controversial national anthem protests on Friday, a day after the league said it would hold off on enforcing a new policy.
“The NFL National Anthem Debate is alive and well again – can’t believe it!,” Trump tweeted.
“Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart? The $40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!,’”he wrote.
Protests in which players kneeled during the anthem – first launched by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 to highlight racial and social injustices – put America’s most popular sport at the center of a political firestorm last year.
This came after Trump described players who took part as “sons of bitches” who were insulting the flag, the US military and the nation.
The remarks prompted a wave of kneeling protests across the league last September, angering some fans and placing several conservative, Trump-supporting team owners in an awkward position as NFL television ratings dropped.
In a bid to steer away from controversy in the upcoming season, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced in May that owners had agreed on a new policy requiring all players and team and league personnel on the sidelines to “stand and show respect for the flag and anthem” although it gave players the option of staying in the locker room instead.
Contrary to Trump’s tweet, there is nothing in the NFL collective bargaining agreement requiring players to stand. The league planned to fine teams if players violated the new policy, and teams could decide whether to penalize players.
The NFL Players’ Association filed a grievance, arguing the new rule was “inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on player rights”.
The league and union agreed to confidential talks to try to resolve the issue, and issued a joint statement on Thursday night announcing a ”standstill agreement” on the matter.
“No new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks while these confidential discussions are ongoing,” the league and union said.