NFL anthem policy on hold as league and union talk

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Buffalo Bills players kneel during the American national anthem before their NFL game against the Denver Broncos, at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, in September 2017

The NFL and the NFL Players Association said on Thursday that no new rules regarding the national anthem will be issued or enforced as they discuss how to move forward on the divisive issue.

The joint statement came after a report that the Miami Dolphins issued conduct rules indicating players could be suspended for protesting on the field during the pre-game playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"The NFL and NFLPA, through recent discussions, have been working on a resolution to the anthem issue," the league and players association said in Thursday night's joint statement.

"In order to allow this constructive dialogue to continue, we have come to a standstill agreement on the NFLPA's grievance and on the NFL's anthem policy.

"No new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks while these confidential discussions are ongoing."

The players' association filed a grievance this month against the policy approved by club owners in May, which requires players and all team personnel on the sidelines to stand during the anthem or teams would be fined.

Players have the option of staying in the locker room while the anthem is played under the policy, but the union argued that the new rule were "inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on player rights".

The report of the Dolphins' possible disciplinary measures added renewed urgency to the issue, although ESPN reported that "multiple sources" with the Dolphins and the NFL said the team was submitting potential policies as required by every team before training camp.

One Dolphins source told ESPN that the team had not discussed suspensions for protesting during the national anthem.

America's most popular sport found itself at the center of a political firestorm in 2017 after President Donald Trump described players who kneeled during the anthem to draw attention to racial injustice as "sons of bitches" who were insulting the flag and the nation.

The remarks prompted a wave of kneeling protests across the league in September, angering some fans and placing several conservative, Trump-supporting team owners in an awkward position as NFL television ratings dropped.

- Focus on finding solution -

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the protests in 2016 as a way of drawing attention to police brutality, social injustice and racial inequity.

In 2017, Kaepernick was unable to get an NFL job. Free agents Kaepernick and Eric Reid are suing the NFL, saying league owners colluded to keep them unsigned as retaliation for the protests.

In filing the grievance, the players' association proposed confidential discussions between the league and union in a bid to reach a mutually acceptable solution.

On Thursday, the league and union said those talks are going ahead.

"The NFL and NFLPA reflect the great values of America, which are repeatedly demonstrated by the many players doing extraordinary work in communities across our country to promote equality, fairness and justice," the statement said. " Our shared focus will remain on finding a solution to the anthem issue through mutual, good faith commitments, outside of litigation."