The Miami Dolphins have submitted their annual disciplinary plan to the NFL, and it includes a section entitled “Proper Anthem Conduct” that could lead to a four-game suspension, according to a report from the Associated Press. This document, which teams submit every year, defines what a team may do to players if discipline is required. According to ESPN’s Jeff Darlington on SportsCenter, the Dolphins have no intention of actually suspending players for anthem protests, but wrote into the document the highest level of punishment they could in order to codify the league’s own anthem policy.
The Dolphins have had players kneel during the anthem the last two years, including wide receiver Kenny Stills, safety Michael Thomas, and tight end Julius Thomas last year. The team briefly enforced a policy of either having all players standing on the sideline, or the player could choose to remain in the locker room - similar to the new league-wide policy - but abandoned it after discussions between the players and head coach Adam Gase.
Stills is the only one of the three players still with the club as Michael Thomas signed with the New York Giants and Julius Thomas was released.
The punishment for kneeling, which is defined as “conduct detrimental to the club,” could include a fine or a suspension, with both paid and unpaid suspensions possible.
Darlington, who had worked as a Dolphins beat writer prior to leaving for a stint at the NFL Network and now on to ESPN, pointed out that, while the Dolphins are the first team to have this type of disciplinary plan reported, they are also one of the first teams to have players report for training camp - Miami’s rookies reported on Thursday. He said he would expect more teams to have similar language revealed once they submit their plans as have players report.
Update: Darlington continued to explain the Dolphins’ policy in a series of tweets:
Sources with Dolphins and NFL say Miami merely submitted annual discipline schedule, as required by league at dates set in conjunction with camp. Dolphins are among first to report for camp. They have not finalized any objective discipline measures for protesting during Anthem.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) July 19, 2018
Dolphins submitted the same discipline schedule that all other teams will also submit, outlining what could be considered conduct detrimental to the club. It declares vague maximums. I’m told this is NOT a public declaration of intentions to suspend for protests during anthem.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) July 19, 2018
One thing that should be made abundantly clear: Dolphins source says the team has no intention of suspending a player for four games based on any type of anthem protest. They don’t know if/how they’ll discipline — but nobody internally believes four games is even close.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) July 19, 2018
If anything, this feels like another lesson for the NFL, merited or not, about the potential for PR fallout at every turn when it comes to imposing a policy against protesting during National Anthem — especially one that ultimately shifts disciplinary onus onto individual teams.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) July 19, 2018
31 other teams will submit similar statements to NFL declaring how they might potentially discipline players for any number of rules violations as they do each year. And now, all of them will be scrutinized for how they individually address protests.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) July 19, 2018
31 more PR problems for NFL.
Update 2: Adam Beasley and Jordan McPherson of the Miami Herald backed up Darlington’s reporting with more confirming the Dolphins submitted this policy just to ensure they feel in line with the league’s new policy, but do not yet have a formalized plan for what they will do once the season starts if they have any players who choose to kneel:
“The NFL required each team to submit their rules regarding the anthem before reporting for training camp,” a source close to the Dolphins told the Miami Herald. “Since the rookies reported on Wednesday, [the Dolphins] had to have a policy in place.We will address this once the season starts and all options are still on the table.”