NFL players’ union files grievance against Trump-inspired anthem policy
Members of the Houston Texans kneel during the national anthem at a game against the Seattle Seahawks, Oct. 29, 2017, in Seattle. | Ryan Kang / AP

The NFL Players Association formally filed a non-injury grievance challenging the validity of the NFL’s new national anthem policy on multiple grounds Tuesday. A statement from the NFLPA said:

“Our union filed its non-injury grievance today on behalf of all players challenging the NFL’s recently imposed anthem policy. The union’s claim is that this new policy, imposed by the NFL’s governing body without consultation with the NFLPA, is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on player rights.

“In advance of our filing today, we proposed to the NFL to begin confidential discussions with the NFLPA Executive Committee to find a solution to this issue instead of immediately proceeding with litigation. The NFL has agreed to proceed with those discussions and we look forward to starting them soon.”

The NFLPA argues that the peaceful take-a-knee action during the playing of the national anthem does not qualify as “conduct detrimental” to the integrity of or public confidence in the National Football League.

With the league changing the policy without first negotiating with the union, it will need to rely on the broad powers given to the commissioner, Roger Goodell, through the personal conduct policy—including the “conduct detrimental” phrasing—to players who took part in the anthem protest as part of its defense.

The NFLPA further argues that kneeling during the anthem does not qualify as detrimental conduct, since the league previously said players had the right to use their platform to elevate issues important to them. The new policy, the union argues, could set a dangerous disciplinary precedent that would allow teams to penalize players for other forms of peaceful demonstrations, including prayer.

Under Article 43 of the NFLPA’s collective bargaining agreement, teams have the right to implement “reasonable club rules,” which typically include fines for various violations, including missing team meetings or workouts.

The NFL will have 10 days to respond to the grievance. If a resolution is not reached at that time, the NFLPA has the right to appeal the grievance to a panel of four, mutually selected, neutral arbitrators. Typically, hearings take place within 30 days, but class-action grievance can take several months to resolve.

The players’ union has not ruled out a potential legal challenge of the policy through city and state courts where statutes or legislation exists prohibiting such workplace rules similar to the anthem policy.

Back in May, NFL owners approved a new national anthem policy that gives individual teams the authority to set their own anthem-related rules and allows players to remain in the locker room during the song. The new policy removes the current requirement from the league’s game operations manual that players be on the field during the anthem, allowing them to stay in the locker room, and it gives teams the power to set their own policies for players who choose to be on the field while the anthem plays, including the ability to discipline players for any type of protest.

The NFL did not immediately comment about the union’s formal complaint, but in a news update found on, the league made sure to give itself a pat on the back:

“Off the field, the league has made a push to address social issues important to players. Working in conjunction with the Players Coalition, the league stepped up its efforts to support players on social issues important to them, dedicating $89 million to efforts combating social inequality,” read the closing blurb.

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Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.