The National Football League announced major changes to its policy regarding the national anthem Wednesday, declaring that teams can now be fined if their players are on the field and do not stand for the anthem.
Players who want to sit or kneel during the anthem will have to do so "in the locker room," according to the new rules.
"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," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "We believe today’s decision will keep our focus on the game and the extraordinary athletes who play it — and on our fans who enjoy it."
"This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem," Goodell added.
The decision drew swift backlash from players, with the NFL Players Association quickly noting that the league "chose not to consult the union in the development of this new 'policy.'"
Individual players who took part in the anthem protests during the last two seasons, or who supported their teammates' right to do so, also criticized the move, issuing statements criticizing the league and its rationale on social media.