NFL teams that didn’t appear on the field for the playing of the national anthem won’t be subject to discipline, according to a league spokesman.
Joe Lockhart, the league’s director of communications, said on a conference call Monday that the Titans, Seahawks and Steelers, who remained inside the locker room during the anthem, will not be sanctioned despite a rule that penalizes teams whose players don’t appear on the field for the song.
“There will be no discipline handed down this week for anyone who was not there,” Lockhart said.
The Titans and Seahawks played Sunday in Tennessee, and the Steelers played the Bears in Chicago.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said after the game that the players couldn’t agree on how to express their emotions in the wake of criticism from President Donald Trump, who suggested during a political rally on Friday in Alabama that NFL owners should fire a player who doesn’t stand for the anthem.
“They chose to remove themselves from it,” Tomlin said. “They were not going to be disrespectful in the anthem, so they chose not to participate, but at the same time many of them were not going to accept the words of the president.”
One Steelers player, offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, went to the field and stood with a hand over his heart for the anthem.
Lockhart delivered some stinging criticism of Trump’s remarks and subsequent tweets in which the president doubled down on his suggestion that players be released if they don’t stand for the anthem. He also urged that fans who don’t agree with players who don’t stand for the anthem should boycott the NFL. At one point in his speech, Trump said NFL team owners should respond to players protesting during the anthem by saying, “Get that son of a [expletive] off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!” Trump also said if fans “leave the stadium” when players protest the anthem, “I guarantee, things will stop.”
“When the president calls somebody a son of a [expletive], that’s a story,” said Lockhart, a former press secretary for President Bill Clinton.
Lockhart said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who called Trump’s remarks divisive in a statement on Saturday, “was very proud of the league this weekend.”
“There was no grandstanding [by NFL teams on Sunday]. It was incredibly thoughtful conversation about very difficult issues and a situation that was brought on by the president’s remarks,” Lockhart said. “I’d say that, looking at [Sunday], everyone should know, including the president, that this is what real locker room talk is.”
The locker room talk comment was a swipe at Trump, who was caught on tape discussing his treatment of women, saying at one point that he can grab them by their private parts. Trump later defended his comments as “locker room talk.”
Lockhart said the NFL’s reaction to Trump’s remarks on Friday, which included several additional players taking a knee and many teams standing arm-in-arm for the anthem, showed a rare sense of unity in the league.
“There are at times we’re at odds with the players union, there are times where we’re at odds with each other,” he said. “I’ve never seen an event that more forcefully pulled together and united a group.”
Lockhart also pushed back at Trump’s criticism of what he perceives as the league’s crackdown on violent hits.
“These remarks represent someone who’s out of touch,” Lockhart said. “Health and safety is always our number one priority. That’s why we’ve changed more than 50 rules in the last 15 years.”
Lockhart said there has been no communication between Trump or other White House officials in the aftermath of Friday’s comments.
“The president has chosen his form of dialogue, which is Twitter and statements that I’m not sure a sensible review of the facts would support,” Lockhart said. “If the president wants to engage in something positive and constructive, he knows our number.”