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The protests within the NFL in response to President Donald Trump’s remarks – calling on team owners to “fire or suspend” players who fail to stand for the national anthem - has stirred up escalating rumors to go along with the controversy.

The 9NEWS Verify team dug into the most recent claims:

  • Did NFL players only start coming onto the field for the national anthem in 2009?
  • Was that because the government paid to stage ceremonies and patriotic displays to appear patriotic or boost military recruitment?


A couple widely circulated images claim there is a link between the requirement for players to stand on the field for the national anthem and taxpayer money funding for patriotic displays.

9NEWS game footage from December 2008 showed the Broncos on the field for the anthem during a day game.

The 9NEWS Verify team dug up 9NEWS footage of Broncos games before 2009, read through a section of the game operations manual, talked with the NFL spokesman and reviewed the government's involvement in patriotic displays.


To verify if NFL players only started coming on the field for the national anthem in 2009, 9NEWS looked through both our own footage of Broncos games before 2009 and a section of the game operations manual.

9NEWS game footage from December 2008 showed the Broncos on the field for the anthem during a day game.

The NFL game operations section about the national anthem states, "During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking.”

MORE: Can NFL players get fired for protesting during the national anthem?

The section goes on to say, "It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.”

An image from November 2006 with the anthem being performed with the players not on the field.

In a phone call, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Verify he underscores the word "may” result. He said this past Sunday "we put out word that players were not going to be fined for any action on that game day."

He said the focus on the year 2009 is because during prime-time games, players ran onto the field after the national anthem at the request of the networks. The video attached to this story shows an image from November 2006 with the anthem being performed with the players not on the field.

To be consistent across all games, in 2009 the NFL changed its policy to have players on the field just like every other game during the day.

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Buffalo Bills players kneel during the American National anthem before an NFL game against the Denver Broncos on September 24, 2017 at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)


In 2015, Sen. McCain and Sen. Flake released a joint oversight report that found the government did fund patriotic displays seen in professional sports.

“Displays of paid patriotism are included within the $6.8 million that the Department of Defense has spent on sports marketing contracts since fiscal year 2012,” according to the report.

It stated 72 of the 122 contracts analyzed show the Department of Defense paid for patriotic tributes at professional football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer games.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 24: Laremy Tunsil #67, Maurice Smith #27 and Julius Thomas #89 kneel with Jarvis Landry #14 of the Miami Dolphins during the National Anthem prior to an NFL game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 24, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

“These paid tributes included on-field color guard, enlistment and reenlistment ceremonies, performances of the national anthem, full-field flag details, ceremonial first pitches͕ and puck drops. The National Guard paid teams for the 'opportunity' to sponsor military appreciation nights and to recognize its birthday,” according to the report.

The report went on to state the DoD paid teams to do surprise welcome home promotions for troops and to recognize Wounded Warriors.

“While well intentioned, we wonder just how many of these displays included a disclaimer that these events were in fact sponsored by the DoD at taxpayer expense,” the report stated.

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 24: Members of the Detroit Lions take a knee during the playing of the national anthem prior to the start of the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field on September 24, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

According to the report, this practice was addressed.

“We successfully had the 2016 NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] amended to restrict the DoD’s spending on paid patriotism in its professional sports advertising contracts.”

The Broncos were not in that report as having paid for patriotism. The league, however, returned money to the government.


In 2016, the NFL responded to the paid patriotism investigation and returned hundreds of thousands of dollars to taxpayers after it was found DoD funds were spent to honor the military.

“In a letter dated May 18, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell notified Flake and McCain that an external audit to evaluate the contracts between NFL clubs and the DoD ‘identified $723,734 over those four seasons that may have been mistakenly applied to appreciation activities rather than recruitment efforts. This amount will be promptly returned in full to the taxpayers,’” according to a press release on Sen. Flake’s website.

According to an email from McCarthy, in June 2016, the NFL was directed to send a check to the Bureau of the Fiscal Service within the Department of the Treasury.  

“We received confirmation that the Bureau received the check and the funds were designated for public debt retirement,” McCarthy wrote.

In the press release, Flake praised the NFL for being the first organization to return funds- and McCain called on the other sports leagues identified in the report to conduct an audit and either return the money or donate it to service members.


Players have stood on the field during the national anthem even before 2009.

There is no evidence that the players are on the field for the anthem because they are being paid by the government to stage patriotic displays, as the social media post claims.