The National Football League is hoping to quell players protesting the national anthem by requiring them to stand and could enact the new policy next week, the league's top businessman and commissioner Roger Goodell indicated in a letter to all teams.
"Like many of our fans," Goodell wrote, "we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem. It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us.
"We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players."
The memo was issued after President Donald Trump suggested using tax laws to penalize the league for players who kneel in protest of racial injustice. The former reality television star and casino baron escalated his feud with the NFL in a Twitter post, asking if the league should receive the benefits while some athletes kneel in protest when the "Star-Spangled Banner" is played at the start of each game.
"Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!" Trump wrote on Twitter.
However, the NFL gave up its tax-exempt status two years ago.
Asked to explain Trump's comment on the NFL and taxes, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, "The federal tax law doesn't apply here, but certainly we know that they receive tax subsidies on a variety of different levels." However, the administration does support the idea of requiring players to stand, she said.
Current NFL guidelines only suggest that players stand for the anthem but don't explicitly require it.
The furor began in 2016 when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began his protests against police brutality and racism in the United States, which he expressed by kneeling during the national anthem.
The protests, in a league where Black people make up the majority of players, have continued through the season, with some players taking a knee when the anthem is played and others standing arm-in-arm in solidarity.
Trump won the presidency with less support from black voters than any other president in at least four decades.
President Trump has taken to Twitter to blast the dozens of players following Kaepernick's example, controversially telling team owners that they should ban any player who kneels during the anthem and “Get that son of a bitch off the field.”
Critics contend Trump is fanning the controversy to distract from issues including devastation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, tensions with North Korea and difficulties in pushing healthcare and tax overhauls through the U.S. Congress.
The NFL Players Association, when asked for a reaction to possible changes to anthem rules, said in an email "we do not have a response at this time."
Trump has squared off against the NFL before, having owned a team in the upstart United States Football League in the 1980s. That league folded in 1985 after an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL failed.