It's a no-win situation, and Steelers President Art Rooney II has understood that from the beginning, but he believes the National Anthem policy adopted by the NFL during meetings in New York earlier this week attempts to consider the many varied viewpoints on a complex issue.
"As you know, we adopted a new policy in the league (on Wednesday), and it starts with the fact that over the last year we've listened to voices from all different parts of the spectrum, including our players, and I think we attempted to strike a balance between respecting the rights of a player not to be forced to stand for the anthem, on one hand, while acknowledging the vast majority of our fans who attend or watch our games don't come to see a political protest," said Rooney.
"And most particularly, (we considered) the members of our military and veterans communities who we've heard a lot from over the last year about what it means to respect the flag and the national anthem. We felt like we needed to take some action, and I think what we did tried to strike a balance between the views of many different people while not wanting to force the players into a situation that they're uncomfortable with. That's where we start."
To recap the new policy, the NFL now mandates that all team and league personnel who are on the field – and therefore visible to the fans in the stands and the cameras televising the game – "shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem."
The NFL Game Operations Manual, which previously mandated that all players must be on the field for the Anthem has been revised, with that provision removed. That means team personnel may choose to remain in the locker room or "in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem is performed.
Each team is permitted to develop its own rules, as long as those are consistent with the new league guidelines, but a team will be fined by the league if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
In other words, while the league will fine a team for violating the new policy, a team also is permitted to fine players and other personnel for violating the new policy.
Already, this policy has drawn criticism from different quarters, but as Rooney said, "There was criticism of the old policy, too. No, I don't think there is a way to satisfy everyone. We're at a time in this country where there is a divisive atmosphere, and that makes it tough to strike a balance, but that's what we tried to do here."
Reports from New York initially indicated that the new Anthem policy was put to a vote and passed, 31-0, with the San Francisco 49ers abstaining. But later reports indicated that a vote was not taken, and Rooney confirmed that on Thursday.
"There wasn't a formal vote," said Rooney, "but we went around the room and everybody spoke their piece, so it wasn't like anybody didn't have a chance to express where they stood on this."
The NFL has found itself in something of a unique situation with regards to the National Anthem, as compared to other professional sports leagues, none of which has attracted much attention for their handling of the playing of the National Anthem.
"We're the highest profile league in the country," said Rooney about all of the attention, "and I think that's certainly a factor on this subject and other subjects. People react to positions taken in the NFL and by people who are connected with the league, no doubt about it."
As far as the how the Steelers are going to react to this new policy, Rooney seemed to have little concern about it.
"We'll review the whole situation internally," said Rooney. "I will say even if we wind up having a (schedule of fines) here, I really don't expect it to be an issue with this team. The leadership that we have on this team, the communication we have in this building, I just don't expect us to have an issue with this. We didn't have an issue last year. For some reason, people don't seem to remember that, but we never had a player kneel last year. I don't expect it's going to be an issue for us one way or the other.
"I am proud of how our team stuck together last season, even though I know there are forces outside our building and locker room trying to pull people apart. NFL players have tremendous power to use their platform to help make a positive impact on their communities. With the new Social Justice Fund that we will be putting in place this year, I think our players and our organization will be able to have an even bigger impact in our communities. I look forward to working with our players in these efforts."