NFL policy to stop anthem protests challenged by players union
Colin Kaepernick and other players 'take a knee' during the playing of the national anthem (Screen capture)

The union representing National Football League players on Tuesday said it had filed a grievance against the NFL over its policy requiring players to stand for the national anthem or wait in dressing rooms, saying it infringed on their rights.

The NFL announced in May it would require any player who did not wish to stand during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” before games to stay off the field until the ceremony ended.

The protests, which began two seasons ago, were intended to call attention to what critics say is often brutal treatment of minorities by U.S. law enforcement.

Before the league announced the policy, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) had offered to discuss other ways to defuse tensions over the protests, which were prompted by a series of police killings of unarmed black men in Missouri, New York and other cities.

“The union’s claim is that this new policy, imposed by the NFL’s governing body without consultation with the NFLPA, is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on player rights,” the NFLPA said on Twitter.

The NFL could not immediately be reached for comment.

A few players have knelt on one knee during the anthem, while others, including coaches and staff, have remained standing with locked arms and bowed heads in a show of solidarity with kneeling players.

The protests, and the NFL’s initial acceptance, have become a sensitive political issue largely because of U.S. President Donald Trump’s repeated criticism of both the protests and the owners for tolerating them. During a speech last year, Trump called on NFL owners to fire players who did not stand for the anthem.

Last month, Trump withdrew an invitation to the NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles to the White House after most of the players said they would boycott the event in part because of the president’s stance on the protests. No Eagles players knelt in protest last season.

Reporting by Susan Heavey, Scott Malone and Bernie Woodall; Editing by Frank McGurty and Grant McCool