The National Football League announced Wednesday that starting this season all players on the field must stand for the national anthem — or their team will face fines.
Players who want to kneel or not stand will have to do so "in the locker room," according to the new rules.
"This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement posted online.
Goodell said that the league would reflect the change in its Game Operations Manual, which the NFL describes on its website as a "bible" with "nearly 200 pages of procedures and policy for regular season games alone." The rules currently state that all players must be on the field for the anthem.
"A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem," Goodell said.
Here's the full statement:
"The efforts by many of our players sparked awareness and action around issues of social justice that must be addressed," Goodell said. "The platform that we have created together is certainly unique in professional sports and quite likely in American business. We are honored to work with our players to drive progress.
"It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case."
The National Football League Players Association, the union that represents players, issued a statement shortly after the news broke saying that it had not been consulted about this change and would review it as a union.
NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith also posted a series of tweets with his reaction to the news of the rule changes.
Christopher Johnson, the acting owner and chairman of the New York Jets, said on Wednesday that he would pay any fines the NFL levied on his players if they chose to not stand during the national anthem.
"If somebody [on the Jets] takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players," he told Newsday.
"I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest.
"There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t."
The controversy over NFL players not standing for the National Anthem began during the 2016 season, when then–San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stayed seated in what he described as an act of protest against police brutality in the United States.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL media in a postgame press conference on Aug. 27, 2016.
"To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
A handful of players joined Kaepernick in protest during the 2016 season. Throughout this time, some NFL fans saw the players' decision to kneel, or "take a knee," during the anthem as anti-American and attacked the players via social media.
The issue was reignited during the 2017 season when President Donald Trump began to tweet and make public statements about players kneeling during the national anthem.
During a speech in Alabama on Sept. 22, 2017, the president said that NFL owners should fire any "son of a bitch" who refused to stand during the anthem.
"I'd love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now,'" he said to a cheering crowd.
Following Trump's "son of a bitch" comments, many more NFL players began to kneel during the anthem.
Conservative media outlets reacted to this by encouraging viewers to boycott the NFL due to the perceived disrespect of the American flag.
In October, Kaepernick, a free agent who had not been hired for the season despite his talent and the fact that at least four other quarterbacks on the roster were injured, filed a grievance against the NFL alleging that owners colluded to keep him off the field for the season.
The owners of the 32 NFL football teams, the grievance alleged, "have colluded to deprive Mr. Kaepernick of employment rights in retaliation for Mr. Kaepernick’s leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States.”
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Kaepernick for comment.
The National Football League Players Association's name was misstated in an earlier version of this post.