The NBA sent a memo late Friday to teams reinforcing its rule that players and coaches stand for the national anthem, and suggesting other ways in which they might address the recent protest movement sweeping across the NFL and other sports.
The memo, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN, was distributed by deputy commissioner Mark Tatum. It instructs teams that “the league office will determine how to deal with any possible instance in which a player, coach, or trainer does not stand for the anthem.”
The memo states that individual teams “do not have the discretion to waive” the rule that players, coaches and staff stand for the anthem. The league has the discretion to discipline players who violate the rule. It is not clear if the league would exercise it in the event of any protest. The league also does not want teams independently disciplining players, sources say, and has encouraged open dialogue within teams.
In the memo, Tatum suggests teams might address the current political climate by having players and coaches give a joint pregame address at their first home games.
“This could include a message of unity and how the team is committed to bringing the community together this season,” the memo states.
The memo also suggests teams might prepare a video tribute or public service announcement featuring “team leadership speaking about the issues they care about.”
The memo comes a day after commissioner Adam Silver said he expects players to stand for the national anthem.
Last season, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem as a means of protesting social and racial injustice, and police brutality. Dozens of NFL players followed suit last Sunday, two days after President Donald Trump said owners should fire players who protest during the anthem. The Dallas Cowboys locked arms and knelt just before the national anthem before their Monday Night Football game. Before the national anthem ahead of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, players from the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx locked arms; L.A. players then left the floor during the anthem. The Sparks repeated the protest ahead of Game 2.
The NBA is seeking a delicate balance in how it responds to the wave of protests in sports and the general political climate surrounding the administration of Trump. Silver and Michele Roberts, executive director of the players union, have consistently urged players to address issues that matter to them. Tatum’s memo does the same. It also suggests other ways in which teams can “continue to develop impactful community programs,” including mentorship programs, community gatherings, using basketball itself to “build bridges” between segments of a community and inviting community leaders to speak to teams.
Several players went further on media day and explicitly condemned Trump and his policies. Some owners, while in some cases sympathetic to those views, have expressed concern about such statements alienating fans who might support the president, sources tell ESPN.
The league in the past week has sent teams at least two other memos outlining ways other than anthem protests in which teams can engage their communities and address current events. In one memo, sent on Tuesday, the league informed teams that beginning in October, the U.S. Conference of Mayors “will host a series of community conversations and other events with NBA teams to engage young people, law enforcement, and local leaders.”
Roberts told The Undefeated’s Marc Spears on Friday that the union will respond to any protest-related discipline from the league office “when it happens.”