National anthem protest guidelines in each major US sport

on Feb10
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The concept of protesting during the national anthem didn’t exactly originate with Colin Kaepernick, but when he did so to start the 2016 NFL season, he launched a movement that is ongoing to this day.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in protest on the medals stand during the 1968 Olympics. They were initially ostracized and kicked out of the Games for their actions in response to threats from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban the entire team.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf sparked controversy in the NBA when he refused to stand for the anthem, saying that, to him, the flag was a symbol of oppression. He was suspended initially but worked out a deal with the league to look down while standing as the anthem was played.

Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved fists in the Black power salute in protest during the national anthem at the 1968 Mexico Games.

Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved fists in the Black power salute in protest during the national anthem at the 1968 Mexico Games.
(AP)

Kaepernick would raise the issues of systemic racism and police brutality in giving his reasoning to kneel during the national anthem. He initially sat during the anthem, but after talking to former long snapper and Green Beret Nate Boyer, they agreed that kneeling would be a better route to take.

Though the NFL never formally punished Kaepernick, the league’s team owners were accused of conspiring to blackball Kaepernick and teammate Eric Reid for launching the protests. The league would settle the accusations with Kaepernick and Reid, and while the defensive back would play again, the quarterback would still remain a free agent.

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Each major pro sports league has rules regarding player action during the national anthem. Here’s a look.

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NFL

Eric Reid, left, kneeled during the national anthem with Colin Kaepernick, right, in 2016.

Eric Reid, left, kneeled during the national anthem with Colin Kaepernick, right, in 2016.
(AP)

The NFL has never formally disciplined a player or coach for kneeling or sitting during the national anthem. But the league rules state that team members “shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem” and those who don’t want to stand “may stay in the locker room until after the anthem has been performed.”

The NFL agreed to delay any type of punishment, but the anthem and the presentation of the American flag before football games remains.

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NBA

The Miami Heat team kneels during the playing of the national anthem before the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

The Miami Heat team kneels during the playing of the national anthem before the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Like the NFL, the NBA also has rules for how players and personnel should conduct themselves during the national anthem. In 2017, ESPN reported the NBA sent a memo to teams reminding them “the league office will determine how to deal with any possible instance in which a player, coach or trainer does not stand for the anthem” and that teams “do not have the discretion to waive” and the league can only discipline players who violate the mandate.

But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said this past summer that the rules for standing during the anthem wouldn’t be enforced amid a wave of racial tension in the U.S.

“I respect our teams’ unified act of peaceful protest for social justice and under these unique circumstances will not enforce our long-standing rule requiring standing during the playing of our national anthem,” Silver said.

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MLB

The Colorado Rockies line up before the national anthem.

The Colorado Rockies line up before the national anthem.
(Getty Images)

Players kneeling during the anthem isn’t a common theme in baseball. Former Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Mathews started the trend in baseball after Kaepernick, but it didn’t catch on. In 2020, players were seen kneeling during the anthem at the beginning of the season, but it mostly tapered off.

MLB’s guidelines allow for personal choice.

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NHL

The Minnesota Wild's Matt Dumba takes a knee during the national anthem flanked by the Edmonton Oilers' Darnell Nurse, right, and the Chicago Blackhawks' Malcolm Subban before an NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff game in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

The Minnesota Wild’s Matt Dumba takes a knee during the national anthem flanked by the Edmonton Oilers’ Darnell Nurse, right, and the Chicago Blackhawks’ Malcolm Subban before an NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff game in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

NHL player protests are rare and the league doesn’t outline player behavior during the national anthem before games.

In 2017, Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown raised his fist before a game.

In 2020, Minnesota’s Matt Dumba knelt during the anthem upon the league’s return to play. The Chicago Blackhawks’ Malcolm Subban and the Edmonton Oilers’ Darnell Nurse stood with hands on his shoulders.

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WNBA

The WNBA has been among the leaders in supporting social justice initiatives on the court. The league had the same rules as the NBA when it came to protesting during the anthem but declined to enforce it. When the league returned, some players chose not to participate in the anthem and instead stayed in the locker room while the song was playing.

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NWSL/US SOCCER

In this Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, file photo, the United States' Megan Rapinoe, right, kneels next to teammates Ali Krieger (11) and Crystal Dunn (16) as the U.S. national anthem is played before an exhibition soccer match against the Netherlands in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

In this Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, file photo, the United States’ Megan Rapinoe, right, kneels next to teammates Ali Krieger (11) and Crystal Dunn (16) as the U.S. national anthem is played before an exhibition soccer match against the Netherlands in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
(The Associated Press)

The National Women’s Soccer League beat the four major sports back to the field amid the coronavirus pandemic. The league allows players to express themselves how they see fit, whether it’s standing, kneeling or staying in the locker room during the anthem.

The U.S. Soccer Federation changed its rules recently to allow players to kneel or protest during the anthem. The rule was made in 2017 after soccer star Megan Rapinoe became the first athlete to follow in Kaepernick’s footsteps and protest in solidarity with him.

U.S. Soccer didn’t allow Rapinoe or any other player to kneel during the anthem during the World Cup. Rapinoe vowed to not put her hand over her heart as her form of protest and followed through.

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MLS

Major League Soccer supports players in their actions to protest during the national anthem if they choose to. The league didn’t play the anthem during matches in its initial return because there were no fans in the stands.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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