The NFL announced Wednesday that players who kneel during the national anthem will be fined, a decision that seemingly sides with President Donald Trump’s vocal criticism of the player protests.
The league also declared that players who do want to protest can choose to remain in the locker rooms, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during a press conference.
The teams would be directly fined and can choose to pass along the fines to their teams. But Christopher Johnson, chief executive of the New York Jets, said the team would cover any fines.
“I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players,” he said. “Instead, we will continue to work closely with our players to constructively advance social justice issues that are important to us.”
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem in 2016 — as a protest against police brutality — sparked national debate. His actions eventually led to the #TakeAKnee campaign that swept the NFL, and other sports, in the following months.
Trump responded positively to the NFL announcement, telling Fox & Friends in an interview that aired Thursday that players who wanted to protest the anthem “shouldn’t be in the country” at all.
“Well, I think that’s good,” Trump said. “I don’t think people should be staying in the locker rooms, but I still think it’s good.”
The president criticized the protests at a rally last September in a tirade where he suggested that players who kneel should be fired.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—-h off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”
The former reality star added, “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
However, the head of the NFL Players Association, the union that represents professional football players, lashed out at the league’s decision, saying that it hadn’t been consulted before the decision was made. The union has vocally supported players’ rights to protest.