Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Gerald McCoy predicted Wednesday that there would be an “uproar” if the NFL requires players to stand for the national anthem versus taking a knee or sitting in protest.
“I don’t think guys are going to like it,” Mr. McCoy told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. “I think it’s going to be an uproar if that is to happen because you’re basically taking away a constitutional right to freedom of speech. If guys wanna have a, I guess you would call it a peaceful protest, I don’t think it’s right to take that away from guys.”
His comments came a day after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that teams would consider a rule change at next week’s regularly scheduled meeting in New York City that would require players to stand during the pregame ceremony.
In a memo to all 32 teams, Mr. Goodell also said that “we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem,” prompting President Trump to declare that it’s “about time.”
“It is about time that Roger Goodell of the NFL is finally demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem–RESPECT OUR COUNTRY,” said Mr. Trump in a Wednesday tweet.
The league issued a statement shortly thereafter emphasizing that the issue is still under discussion and that Mr. Goodell has not made standing mandatory.
“Commentary this morning about the Commissioner’s position on the Anthem is not accurate,” the statement said. “As we said yesterday, there will be a discussion of these issues at the owners meeting next week. The NFL is doing the hard work of trying to move from protest to progress, working to bring people together.”
Only about 30 players sat or took a knee last weekend, down from the nearly 200 who did so at the Sept. 24-25 games following Mr. Trump’s suggestion that team owners should fire players who refuse to stand for the flag.
Mr. McCoy told ESPN he does not plan on kneeling during the national anthem.
Free agent Antonio Cromartie said Wednesday that he thought players would continue to sit or take a knee in what he described as a statement against “police brutality” and “social injustice.”
“I think as players, we still have that First Amendment right to protest peacefully, and I think guys are still going to protest,” Mr. Cromartie said on Fox Sports’s “Undisputed.” “I think the biggest thing is, what are the organizations going to do now with guys protesting?”
Two teams–the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins–have already said they will require players to stand for the national anthem as the league struggles with fan outrage and declining television ratings.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase said that those who object may remain in the tunnel or locker room for the ceremony.
The NFL operations manual now says that players “should” stand at attention for the national anthem.
Mr. Cromartie, who played in the NFL from 2006-16, said he didn’t think fans would abandon the NFL over the take-a-knee protests.
“People are still going to watch football. People love football,” he said.
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