Over the weekend, an aggrieved president Donald Trump took to Twitter fourteen times to denounce what he said was as an act of “total disrespect” by players who knelt during the US national anthem to protest racial injustice in the United States as well as his comments that owners who see a player taking a knee should “get that son of a bitch off the field right now.”
“Courageous Patriots have fought and died for our great American Flag — we MUST honor and respect it!” he tweeted.
But the ritual of teams standing on the sidelines during the national anthem is not such a longstanding tradition. In fact, it began just eight years ago. National Football League (NFL) spokesman Brian McCarthy confirmed last year that the practice began in 2009, adding “players are encouraged, but not required, to stand for the anthem.”
Before that, whether or not to appear on the field for the anthem was left up to the teams themselves, according to fact-checking service Snopes; it did happen, like at one game in 1963 that took place two days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Today, NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said players who skipped the anthem over the weekend—including athletes from the Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, and Pittsburgh Steelers—would not face any disciplinary measures, USA Today reported. “The real effort here is to make progress in the community on issues of inequality, and to not get distracted by political attacks or things that don’t help us make progress,” Lockhart said.