Having gotten all the public relations it wanted (even a hackneyed Sports Illustrated cover), NFL leadership is now back to the more familiar demeanor of reminding its players to either get in line or join the unemployment line. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Monday that any player who is “disrespectful to the flag” won’t play. The league, then, itself upped the ante by feeding this tidbit to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, which he reported before the station’s broadcast of Monday Night Football.
Mortensen later tweeted more details based on that policy and his conversation with Jones.
What the heck is the the “game operations manual”? Officially titled “Policy Manual for Member Clubs,” it’s not a document easily accessed from the NFL website, like the NFL rulebook is. Indeed, the only current portion of the document publicly available is the short anthem-related portion the league has been feeding to various sources for several weeks. But the policy—the NFL is clear to define it as such, rather than “rule”—hasn’t always been phrased that way.
We have a copy of the 2014 edition of the game operations guide thanks to court records from the lawsuit over the Tom Brady suspension:
The document is Exhibit 115, described thusly in the NFLPA counterclaim (emphasis added is mine):
Instead of applying the Player Policies, Vincent punished Brady pursuant to, and for being generally aware of, violations of the Competitive Integrity Policy, which is only incorporated into the Game Operations Manual and provided to teams and team executives. NFLPA Ex. 115, Game Operations Manual at A2. The policy is not given to players, is not part of the annual Player Policies handed out to all players, and does not apply to them. This was undisputed by the NFL’s witnesses at the hearing.
Here is what it says about standing for the national anthem.
The 2014 policy reads that failure to be on the field by the start of the national anthem may “result in disciplinary action from the League office.” The version currently being promulgated by the NFL revises this to read “result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violation of the above, including first offenses.”
That’s a pretty big change for two reasons: They’ve added a lot of punishment, and they’ve removed the language that punishment would come from the league office. We don’t know when the change was made; its language did not appear on the web at all until two weeks ago, and questions sent to an NFL spokesperson have yet to be answered.