This was probably inevitable.
Protests Sunday in which more than 100 NFL players took a knee or remained off the field during the national anthem in response to harsh words from President Donald Trump have already sparked a bumper crop of memes playing off the controversy.
One of the most popular memes circulating on Facebook claims the NFL rulebook explicitly requires players to stand for the national anthem and asks why the league’s not enforcing the rule.
Probably because it doesn’t exist.
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The viral post reads, “The specific NFL rule pertaining to the national anthem is found on pages A62-63 of the league rulebook. It states: The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL 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 result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.”
No such rule exists in the NFL’s 2017 Official Playing Rules, which have no pages marked A62 or A63. Pages 62-63 in the rulebook cover rules for enforcing fouls during play. The rulebook contains no mention of the national anthem.
Subsequent versions of the meme have claimed the language actually can be found in owner’s guides, field manuals or even the NBA rulebook. The NFL game operations manual does contain languge like that quoted in the meme, though an NFL spokesman emphasized the words “should” and “may” in the section pertaining to the anthem, reports Time. The NFL is not considering punishing players who choose to kneel or remain in the locker room during the anthem, the spokesman said.
In August 2016, in response to former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to stop standing for the anthem, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said “players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem,” reports NBC Sports.
Another popular meme making the rounds on Facebook claims Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones strictly ordered everyone involved with the organization to stand for the anthem or face immediate termination.
One version of the meme claims, “Jerry Jones, Owner of the Dallas Cowboys called a meeting with all of his Coaches, Players and field staff and firmly told them, ‘You are all simply paid performers on a stage and that field is my stage! You will stand, with your hand over your heart and with respect, when our Country's National Anthem is being played or you will no longer be a Dallas Cowboy, a Coach for the Dallas Cowboys or have any association with the Dallas Cowboy Organization! I will immediately fire you, no matter who you are!’ ”
Even Texas Gov. Greg Abbot apparently fell for this one.
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But it turns out this one’s not true, either. While Jones has made clear in the past that he’s no fan of protests during the anthem, he "never made those or other alleged comments and the episode as described never happened,” reports The Dallas Morning News. PolitiFact and Snopes have both rated the claim false.
In fact, Jones took a knee while locking arms with his players on the field Monday night before the national anthem. The owner and team then rose, still locking arms, for the performance of the anthem.
“Our players wanted to make a statement about unity and we wanted to make a statement about equality,” Jones said at a postgame news conference, reports The Washington Post.
Finally, a third meme – this one promoted mostly by fans of the protests – claims NFL teams only began participating in the national anthem after the U.S. Department of Defense paid the league millions of dollars to promote patriotic displays in 2009.
This meme reads, “No NFL player stood for the national anthem until 2009 – before then, the players stayed in the locker room as the anthem played. NFL teams got patriotic in recent years because it was good for business. A 2015 congressional report revealed that the Department of Defense had paid $5.4 million to NFL teams between 2011 and 2014 to stage on-field patriotic ceremonies; the national guard shelled out $6.7 million for similar displays between 2013 and 2015. It can be called “paid patriotism.”
This one’s somewhat true but ultimately dubious. According to Snopes, players have always had the option to stand on the sidelines during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But the NFL has received millions of dollars from the Department of Defense and various state National Guard organizations in recent years to honor soldiers at games to bolster military recruitment efforts. In the end, linking those payments to a specific year when players were required to participate in anthem-related events – which, as we’ve seen, they aren’t – seems to be a stretch.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.