The NFL’s new national anthem rule, passed Wednesday in what the league said was a unanimous vote of team owners, is intended to avoid the optics of the last two seasons: players kneeling, or sitting, while the song was played.
The rule mandates that players and staff who are on the field stand and “show respect for the flag.” Those who choose not to must stay in the locker room or, at least, off the field and out of view. The NFL will be able to fine teams whose players are on the field and don’t stand. Teams may develop their own rules, the NFL said, as long as they’re consistent with the league’s stance.
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Bears chairman George McCaskey did not release a statement. No Bear kneeled last season. McCaskey said in March that he “strongly encouraged them, whatever they decided to do, to do it together.”
The NFL hopes the rule spares the league from controversy that first arose when ex-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did not rise for the anthem during a 2016 preseason game. But it won’t stop players from working against injustice, insisted Bears outside linebacker Sam Acho, who is the team’s NFL Players Association representative.
“From the beginning, no one’s intent, and I think no one’s purpose, was to disrespect the flag,” Acho said. “Everyone’s purpose starting with Colin Kaepernick, [Giants safety] Michael Thomas and [former 49ers safety] Eric Reid — who still doesn’t have a job — was to protest police brutality against people of color. So I think that still stands, right?
“You’re going to find a way to stand up for people who were being unjustly treated, find a way to stick up for justice in whatever way, shape or form you can possibly do it.”
Kaepernick and Reid remain unemployed.
“But I think that their martyrdom — [it’s] a strong word, but I just use that term now — is actually paying huge dividends for people with no voice,” Acho said. “They’re speaking up for the voiceless, and as a Bear, as an NFL player, I’m going to continue to do that in any way, shape or form.”
He already has. On the day his new contract was negotiated, Acho and McCaskey toured the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola and discussed prison reform.
“Even though it might be perceived as an us-vs.-them thing, either way, both sides got to come together — rich, poor, black, white,” Acho said. “You have to come together.
“It’s not like these powers-that-be that you talk about, whether it’s owners or whatever, are oppressing, oppressing, oppressing. There’s hatred on both sides. There’s doubt and fear on both sides. I think the only way to overcome that is a sense of love. . . .
“I know the vote was 32-0 with the owners, but I also know [McCaskey] as a man. I know we’re getting to the bottom of this.”
The union said it will “challenge any aspect of the policy that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.” Asked if the union should have had more of a say, Acho said he’d rather focus on what players can do for their communities.
“Because we’re at this point, almost like a point of contrition, right? What do you do now?” Acho said. “Everybody knows. We always talk about the silent majority. The silent majority that allowed slavery to thrive. The silent majority, even go back to the Holocaust. There’s a big-time silent majority that people love staying in. They like staying in the gray.
“And right now, you can’t do that anymore. I can’t sit back and be silent. You can’t sit and be silent. You have to do something, say something. Even if you don’t agree, speak up for what you believe in. Have a conversation.”
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky said he believes the Bears “will all stand on the field together” in 2018. First-year coach Matt Nagy, who watched then-Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters protest last year, said the Bears will talk about what they plan to do.
“It’s too important not to,” Nagy said. “And I feel very confident that we’ll all do it together.”