US & Canada

Trump NFL row: NFL won't make players stand for anthem

Roger Goodell speaks to media after the NFL owners meeting in New York City. Image copyright Reuters

The NFL will not force its players to stand during the national anthem despite backlash over recent protests, the league's commissioner says.

Roger Goodell said he would "encourage" players to stand, but would not punish them if they refused to do so.

The NFL chief said he was "not looking to get into politics" and wished instead to keep the focus on football.

President Donald Trump has criticised NFL stars kneeling in protest against perceived racial injustice.

"We believe everyone should stand for the national anthem," Mr Goodell told reporters on Wednesday after a second day of meetings with team owners and player representatives in New York.

"That's an important part of our policy."

The commissioner continued: "We want our players to stand, we're going to continue to encourage them to stand."

He added: "Our players will state to you publicly they are not doing this in any way to be disrespectful to the flag, but they also understand how it's being interpreted, and that's why we're trying to deal with those underlying issues."

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Media captionWatch: The history of anthem protests in the US.

Mr Trump later tweeted: "Too much talk, not enough action. Stand for the National Anthem."

Hours earlier, he took to Twitter to accuse the league of "total disrespect" for not punishing players who kneel.

Mr Trump has previously insisted that players who failed to stand should be fired or suspended.

Mr Goodell said about half a dozen players are still protesting and the league would work "to get that to zero".

He said on Wednesday he had not spoken to Mr Trump since the controversy erupted.

Some sports leagues, including the NBA basketball league, suspend players if they do not stand during the anthem.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, 29, started the protest last year when he sat down as the Star-Spangled Banner was played during a pre-season game in 2016.

He explained his gesture, which later became known as "taking the knee", was meant to highlight police brutality against African Americans.

He has been without a team since he opted out of his contract with the 49ers in March.

On Sunday it was announced he has filed a grievance against team owners he believes are conspiring not to hire him because of his protests.