- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2018

Professional football is back and so are the take-a-knee protests, but the NFL isn’t planning on disciplining players who refuse to stand during the national anthem—at least for now.

Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch sat on the bench while the anthem played before Friday night’s preseason game, just as he did last year, and Miami Dolphins receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson knelt prior to the Thursday game in Miami.

In a statement, the NFL said it was still engaged in “constructive discussions with the NFL Players Association regarding the anthem and issues of equality and social justice that are of concern to many Americans.”

In May, the NFL announced a policy change requiring players on the sideline before games to stand for the anthem ceremony or remain off the field, but the league backed down a month later after a grievance was filed by the union arguing that it should have been consulted.

“While those discussions continue, the NFL has agreed to delay implementing or enforcing any club work rules that could result in players being disciplined for their conduct during the performance of the anthem,” said the statement.

In addition, NFL officials said they “remain committed to working with the players to identify solutions and to continue making progress on important social issues affecting our communities.”

President Trump pounced on the issue after Thursday’s games, urging players to “[B]e happy, be cool” and “[F]ind another way to protest! Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!”

 

 

While the vast majority of players stood, several engaged in other gestures such as raising fists and linking arms. Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett, a protest leader last season in Seattle, walked to the bench during the anthem, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.

Ten New York Giants players knelt in the end zone before the national anthem was played, according to Fox6, while the Florida Times Union reported that several Jacksonville Giants remained in the tunnel for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Egging on the protesters was free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who led the kneeling during the 2016 regular season but has not played since. He has filed a grievance with the NFL accusing team owners of colluding to keep him out of the league.

“My brother @kstills continued his protest against systemic oppression tonight by taking a knee,” said Kaepernick on Instagram. “Albert Wilson @ithinkisee12 joined him in protest. Stay strong brothers!”

The NFL saw its ratings drop by nearly 10 percent in the 2017 regular season, a decline attributed in large part to fan outrage over the protests.

The NFL doesn’t have much time left to resolve the issue before the 2018 regular season. After three more weeks of preseason games, the season is scheduled to begin Sept. 6 with a Thursday night game between the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles.

Giants linebacker Olivier Vernon, a regular kneeler last season who stood for the anthem on Thursday, said he wanted to see how the NFL and NFLPA resolve the situation before deciding whether to protest this year.

“Right now, we are waiting to see how everything goes with the league,” Vernon said in NJ Advance Media. “We are engaging in talks and seeing what everything is going to lead to. It’s just football for right now.”


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