The three teams that were not on the field during the national anthem on Sunday – the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans – will not be fined for their action (or inaction, as the case may be), the NFL‘s top public relations official told reporters on Monday morning.
After Sunday’s displays of protest and unity, ramped up after President Donald Trump called players who protest “sons of bitches” and made repeated calls for team owners to fire those who protest, NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart held a conference call with reporters to pass along some information from the league’s perspective.
The NFL can fine teams for not being on the field during the anthem, but Lockhart affirmed it will not be doing so. In at least the case of the Steelers, coach Mike Tomlin said he called commissioner Roger Goodell on Sunday morning to inform Goodell of his team’s plan.
In discussing Trump, Lockhart also got cheeky, referencing the hot-mic “Access Hollywood” recording in which Trump says he grabs women by their genitals; then a candidate, Trump called his words “locker room talk.”
“Looking at yesterday everyone should know, including the president, that this is what real locker-room talk is,” Lockhart said.
He added that there had been no direct contact between the president and league officials since Trump’s initial comments at a rally in Alabama on Friday night.
“If the president wants to engage in something positive, productive and constructive, he knows our number,” Lockhart said.
While there are some vocal fans upset by players’ protests, and even the NFL’s and teams’ support of their First Amendment right to peacefully express themselves, Lockhart said the league will continue to back players’ rights and that it has not heard from any concerned sponsors.
He also called Trump “out of touch” on the issue, and stressed that players have repeatedly outlined why they are protesting – to bring attention to ongoing problems of inequality and injustice – and not out of a lack of respect for military members or the United States as a whole.
“The NFL and the game should appeal to all Americans,” Lockhart said. “We recognize that there are those who look at some of the protests and think it signifies some disrespect. I would just underline what the players have been saying themselves.”
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• Pat Forde: Why haven’t we seen anthem protests in college football?