New York (AFP) - The National Football League said Tuesday it wanted players to stand during the US anthem as it attempts to quell the controversy which has dogged the sport since the opening weeks of the season.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to teams reiterating the league's preference for players to stand for renditions of The Star-Spangled Banner.
"Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem. It is an important moment in our game," Goodell wrote.
"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."
Existing NFL policy says players "should" stand for the anthem but does not explicitly make it mandatory.
Goodell also wrote in the memo that the NFL had developed a plan to deal with the issue which would be reviewed at next week's league meeting in New York.
The NFL has been at the centre of a rumbling controversy since US President Donald Trump described players who kneeled for the anthem to protest racial inequality as "sons of bitches" who should be fired.
The NFL initially united in opposition to Trump's remarks, with a large-scale protest by players as well as condemnation from team owners and Goodell himself.
However although the protests have reduced in size in recent weeks, the controversy has refused to die down and was given a fresh jolt of momentum on Sunday when vice president Mike Pence walked out of a game after several San Francisco 49ers players kneeled during the anthem ahead of their game with the Indianapolis Colts.
"I left today's Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem," Pence wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
His walkout was subsequently criticised as a carefully-choreographed publicity stunt.
Also on Sunday, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said any player kneeling during the anthem would be benched.
"I'm very supportive of the team, but under no circumstances will the Dallas Cowboys -- I don't care what happens -- under no circumstances will we as an organization, coaches, players, not support and stand and recognize and honor the flag. Period," Jones said.
Trump meanwhile took to Twitter once more on Monday to applaud the Cowboys' owner's position.
"A big salute to Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who will BENCH players who disrespect our Flag," Trump wrote.
"Stand for Anthem or sit for game!"
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the protests in 2016 following the deaths of several African-American men during confrontations with police.