NFL owners unanimously approved a new policy that will require players to stand for the national anthem if they choose to be on the field while the song is being performed.

NFL national anthem policy
Eric Reid (left) and Colin Kaepernick kneel during the national anthem before a game on September 1, 2016. (Image: Michael Zagaris/Getty)

Players do still retain the option to remain in the locker room during the anthem if they prefer to do so. However, teams can be fined if players or other personnel choose to kneel, sit, or otherwise violate the new policy while on the field.

While the league announced the vote as being unanimous, San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York said that he had abstained from the voting. While speaking to reporters on Wednesday, York wouldn�t talk about whether any other teams had abstained, though he did say that all owners who did vote were in favor of the new policy.

�It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic,��NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement released shortly after the owners voted on the new policy.��This is not and was never the case.�

Goodell made repeated references to the league�s commitment to supporting players who want to raise awareness of social justice issues. Ultimately, he said that the new policy should eliminate distractions from what the league most wants to promote.

�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,� Goodell said.

Owners Weigh Options

Owners had spent several hours at the NFL�s spring meetings trying to come up with a policy that would deflect criticism from some fans who found the player protests during the national anthem to be disrespectful, while also trying to avoid the appearance of preventing players from expressing their beliefs.

Several options were discussed, including requiring all players to stand�or simply clearing the field for the national anthem. Owners also considered rules that would give 15-yard penalties to players who chose to kneel. In the end, the decision to require standing but give players the option to stay off the field was seen as a compromise measure.

The NFL Players Association released a statement saying that it had not been consulted about the new policy, and that it would review the new rules to determine if any aspect was inconsistent with the league�s collective bargaining agreement.

Earlier in the week, the league agreed to donate $89 million over the next seven years to social justice causes in an effort to address some of the issues that players had been protesting.

New Rules for Safer Kickoffs?

The national anthem wasn�t the only issue that owners took up during the spring meetings. On Tuesday, owners temporarily approved a set of rules that were designed to make kickoffs safer. The decision was made based on league data that found that concussions were five times more likely on kickoffs than on other plays.

Under the new rules, kickoff coverage teams won�t be able to take running starts, and two-man wedge blocks will be made illegal. Kickoff teams will also be required to line up five men on each side of the ball.

The new rules will be utilized for the 2018 season, then will be reevaluated next spring. If the changes aren�t satisfactory for the league, more changes could come in 2019, and even the complete elimination of kickoffs could be considered.

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