NFL players broke the rules, but there will be no punishment

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Players from the Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, and Pittsburgh Steelers will not be punished for violating a league rule that requires them to be present on the sidelines during the playing of the national anthem.

“There will be no discipline handed down this week for anyone who was not there,” said NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart on Monday.

The Seahawks and the Titans stayed in their locker rooms during the pregame ritual on Sunday in a show of protest, ostensibly, against President Trump, who made it clear that he didn’t like the way an increasing number of sports players were protesting by “taking a knee” or sitting during the anthem.

Prior to the Sunday games, Trump tweeted out: If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

At least one player from every team engaged in some show of protest during the national anthem on Sunday. Some teams stood arm in arm with players, coaches and owners. A few players raised a closed fist, while many of them took a knee; some, including the entire starting offensive line from the Oakland Raiders, the only all-black line in the NFL, chose to sit.

The Steelers did not take the field as a team so that their players would not have to choose between making a protest statement or displaying patriotism, said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

“You know, these are very divisive times for our country and for us as a football team it’s about us remaining solid,” Tomlin said before the game. “We’re not going to be divided by anything said by anyone. We’re not going to let divisive times or divisive individuals affect our agenda.”

However, one Steelers player, offensive lineman and Army Ranger veteran Alejandro Villanueva, went against his team’s decision and chose to proudly display his own patriotism by standing at the end of the player’s tunnel at Soldier Field, with his hand over his heart, during the playing of the anthem before the game in Chicago.

Asked by reporters if there could be discipline in the future, or if the pregame sideline policy could change, Lockhart said that the league would continue to have a dialogue with players. “The real effort here is to make progress in the community on issues of inequality, and to not get distracted by political attacks or things that don’t help us make progress,” he added.

“Yesterday was an important day for the league, and, we think, a good one,” Lockhart said. “A common theme was coming together in a thoughtful way/ They are one team, [deciding] things in the locker room, with coaches, with the owner, and they are united.”

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