Are NFL players required to stand for the national anthem?

Teammates show their support for Seahawks DE Michael Bennett during a silent protest.

After NFL teams or players stayed in the locker room, knelt, sat or linked arms during the national anthem before games Sunday, people want to know what the NFL rules say.

Are the players required to stand on the field during the national anthem?  What does the NFL rule book say?

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On social media, many people have been cutting and pasting the following excerpt:

A62-63 of the NFL League Rulebook. It states: "The National Anthem must be played prior to every game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem.
During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should ensure that the American flag is in good condition…
…It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses."

But unfortunately for those sharing it across the internet, it is not from the 2017 rulebook, which has no specific mention of requirements in connection with the national anthem. See this year's rulebook here.

Pages 62 and 63 make no mention of the national anthem and instead go over the enforcement of fouls.

There is one section that is open for interpretation though.  In rule 5 - Players, under section 4, Equipment, Uniforms and Player Appearance, article 8 it states that:

Throughout the period on game-day that a player is visible to the stadium and television audience (including in pregame warm-ups, in the bench area, and during postgame interviews in the locker room or on the field), players are prohibited from wearing, displaying, or otherwise conveying personal messages either in writing or illustration, unless such message has been approved in advance by the League office. Items to celebrate anniversaries or memorable events, or to honor or commemorate individuals, such as helmet decals, and arm bands and jersey patches on players' uniforms, are prohibited unless approved in advance by the League office. All such items approved by the League office, if any, must relate to team or League events or personages. The League will not grant permission for any club or player to wear, display, or otherwise convey messages, through helmet decals, arm bands, jersey patches, or other items affixed to game uniforms or equipment, which relate to political activities or causes, other non-football events, causes or campaigns, or charitable causes or campaigns. Further, any such approved items must be modest in size, tasteful, non-commercial, and noncontroversial; must not be worn for more than one football season; and if approved for use by a specific team, must not be worn by players on other teams in the League.

When then-49ers' quarterback Colin Kaepernick first started taking a knee during the anthem in 2016, the NFL later issued a statement saying, "Players are encouraged, but not required, to stand during the playing of the National Anthem."

And over the weekend, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told Sports Illustrated's Peter King he was proud of the league's response to President Trump's comments.

“The way we reacted today, and this weekend, made me proud,” Goodell said. “I’m proud of our league," Goodell told King.

While the NFL doesn’t require you stand when the anthem is played, the federal government has a different take.

Here’s a quick look at what the United States Code says about how we should be conducting ourselves in the presence of the country’s flag and at the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Are American citizens required to stand during the National Anthem?

According to Title 36 (section 171) of the United States Code, “During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in (military) uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain this position until the last note. When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there.”

The question, of course, is whether “should” in the first sentence means “must” or “shall.”

So does it, and what’s the penalty if I don’t stand?

Section 171 does not specify nor impose penalties for violating the section of the code.  Most interpretations refer to how the flag is treated, not specifically anything about the National Anthem. According to a Congressional Research Service report to Congress in 2008, “The Flag Code is a codification of customs and rules established for the use of certain civilians and civilian groups. No penalty or punishment is specified in the Flag Code for display of the flag of the United States in a manner other than as suggested. Cases ... have concluded that the Flag Code does not proscribe conduct, but is merely declaratory and advisory”

(A side note:  In Massachusetts, singing the National Anthem, "other than as a whole and separate composition or number, without embellishment or addition … or, as dance music, as an exit march or as a part of a medley of any kind, shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars.")

How long has this been the law?

Until 1923, there was no law governing the display of the flag of the United States or direction on how to conduct yourself around it. On June 14 of that year, the National Flag Code was adopted by the National Flag Conference. Led by members of the Army and Navy, 66 groups came together to decide on procedures to display the flag and how to conduct oneself around the flag. It wasn't until 1942 that Congress passed a joint resolution to make the standards Public Law 829: Chapter 806. That law spells out the exact accepted use, display, expected conduct in the presence of the flag, and pledge to be made to the flag.