FIRST Robotics Competition Blog

Kneeling During National Anthems

Dec 18, 2017 Written by Frank Merrick


In the United States, some National Football League (NFL) players have knelt during the playing of the United States National Anthem at the start of games. They are doing this as a way to highlight the problem of racism in this country, or to show support for their teammates on this issue, or both. This act of protest has become a hot topic in the US, with many voices offering their opinions.

Within FIRST Robotics Competition, we’ve had a rule for years requiring team members to stand and face the flag when we play the National Anthems of all countries at an event. This past fall, we saw a very active discussion within our community about whether or not this rule should change, prompted by events in the NFL.

This is a complex situation. Tradition is important, but so is the right of people to express themselves. Considering this issue carefully, we are updating the rules for the 2018 season as shown below. These rules can be found in this section of the website.

E36: Team members, including any remaining in the pits, should exhibit peaceful behavior during the presentation of all national anthems.

E37: Traditionally, Team members stand to face the flag, remove hats, and either sing along or maintain a respectful silence during the anthems of all nations present at the event. If Team members wish to abstain, they have a right to do so, as long as they remain silent and non-disruptive.

FIRST recognizes this change may be controversial to some members of our community. Some will think it goes too far; some will think it doesn't go far enough. We hope our community will be accepting and supportive of our efforts to balance tradition with freedom of peaceful expression.

While we expect no additional changes to E36 and 37 for the 2018 season, we do want to hear your comments. Please enter them below, or email them to


Back to Blog


Thank you so much for acknowledging and supporting the freedom of choice! I am glad that FIRST is supportive of those who wish to take a stance. Students need to be allowed peaceful ways of protest as much as anyone else. Thank you FIRST for adding the growth and development of our students who wish to voice making this country a better place.

I believe this is an exemplary action to take, and I'm glad to see that FIRST is respecting everyone's view. -Cant wait for the new season to start for FRC- :)

I do respect everyone's opinion to make a stand/protest but when someone does actions such as kneeling when the anthem is playing it does become disruptive as it draws attention to them and is not allowing the anthem to shine.  Judging is subjective and although peoples personal feelings can be asked to be put aside it is hard.   If you do draw attention to yourself then you are taking the chance of a judge or two of being insulted by your choice.  Many FIRST judges presently serve or have served in the military.  

I'm a veteran and I have been a judge. Please don't speak for me. We all have our own opinions on this matter, as anyone else. We don't need people justifying their thoughts on the subject based on our service and the service of our fallen.

Thank you.

You raise a fair concern. At our Judge Advisor training this year, we will be discussing this rules change and reminding all that FIRST has indicated team members have the right to abstain from traditional anthem activities without consequence as long as they do so in a silent and non-disruptive way. We can't directly influence what's in folks' hearts, but I believe the great majority of our wonderful judges will work to set aside any personal feelings they have otherwise on this issue. With regards to judges who have served or are serving in the military - evidence I have seen shows veterans have a wide range of opinions on this issue as do non-veterans. 

The kneeling during the National Anthem by NFL players had nothing to do with the military.

YES exactly. Thank you.

Thank you for looking ahead and considering the viewpoints of everyone who might attend and not just waiting until you are forced to react to a situation after it happened. I love your open-mindedness!

We stand for the national anthem because we as Americans pay RESPECT to our military veterans, soldiers that have paid the ultimate sacrifice and our freedom that we as Americans take for granted everyday. Do not use the national anthem to protest social inequalities or any type of protest because believe me other countries have it mich worse, so please stand during the national anthem any pay respect to our military.

Agreed! Well said

Every time I see a flag I am not saluting the military. The National Anthem/flag is for the country, not the military. Those who fought and died while serving fought for freedom, not forced Nationalism. 

I've been wondering how FIRST would address this topic, given its delicate nature and the controversy surrounding the actions in the NFL. Thank you for giving clear guidance on this topic that aligns with the Gracious Professionalism goals of the FIRST organization and its activities.

I am disappointed. First, I would ask why was the rule implemented initially that all team members would stand and face the flag? Has the purpose of that initial rule changed in some way? Yes, freedom of expression is a bedrock right of our country. But why is that freedom of expression being used to disrespect veterans and what they have fought and died for now acceptable? I've heard the argument "they don't mean any disrespect".. then why do it during the anthem? I FEEL disrespected when I see it, and I will not remain quiet WHILE being disrespected in such a manner. Yes, I am a combat veteran, twice over...

As a large financial donor to multiple(5+) teams and FIRST over all, our company has decided based on their recent decision to no longer fund any programs related to FIRST. We will re-examine this decision in the future should FIRST modify their recent  policy related to the anthem.


I'm sure FIRST thanks you for your prior contributions, but am thrilled that they chose not to pursue forced nationalism under the guise of financial pressuring.

How about telling us the name of your company so we can CHOOSE to boycott you?  I am a “stander” but believe in choice unlike you who wants to punish kids and demonstrate that choice is bad.

As a Retired U.S.Marine, a Coach/Mentor and a parent, I disagree with this rule change. One of the many things I love about FIRST is how you try to bring everyone together and show pride in their workmanship, ideas, innovation, schools, sponsors, etc,.. Doing this will just create tension and division within our sport. We need to continue to inspire our youth to be great and that no matter what have pride in their country, flag and national anthem. Let’s leave the politics out of our sport!!!

I, too, am an Army veteran as well as a 14-year Coach who is disappointed in FIRST.  Kneeling (or any other demonstration) during the anthem is divisive and intentionally disruptive, and as such, does not have a place at our competitions. 

It doesn't make sense to diss those who honor and respect our flag and veterans IF you want them to be ON your side!! 

You have seen the half-empty stadiums at NFL games and you know there are a lot of fans who do not support the kneeling players.  Why not protest in way that does not make people angry with you?  That is the rational way to behave.



i have to say I am a bit disappointed that First is getting political. Also the rule contradicts itself. The act of kneeling is meant to cause disruption, it screams hey look at me hence protest, but yet rule says not to cause disruption. Please clarify this ! I can’t help but feel this is going to turn in a not so pleasant direction.  


As a Veteran I enlisted to ensure that everyone in the US had the right to protest.  As long as it is done respectfully, I have no problem with it and am guessing the most other veterans feel the same way.  Some assume that this is a direct attack on the military or veterans, they are completely missing the point.  If they read about how the protests started they may understand it better.  Good Job FIRST, how to get ahead of a thorny issue.

I'm sad to see such a great organization allow participants to show disrespectful behavior. I teach my kids that if there actions hurt others, don't do it, no matter how much you want to. I'm sure that 99 % of the children kneeing are doing it at the hateful behest of there immature parents. Leave the politics out of robotics.

This is one of those moments when I am extremely proud to be part of FIRST. Why? Because you are truly modeling gracious professionalism in a very controversial area when you could have chosen to ignore it. Sharing the words of Michael Sand (a 1970s Green Beret who is also a family member of 3 generations of veterans) because his voice deserves to be heard on this matter: "I can tell you, speaking for three generations of my family, it is PRECISELY for men like Kaepernick, and his right to peacefully protest injustice, that we were willing to serve. There is NOTHING more respectful of our country than living up to its ideals. There is nothing more patriotic than to say “I’m concerned with injustice, and will use my position to try and address it.” By changing the language to clarify the intent of rules E36 and E37, you provided guidance on identifying acceptable behavior (respectful silence or active participation) while affirming an individual's rights to be respectfully silent as they choose. Kneeling IS A MILITARY SIGN OF RESPECT that does not disturb anyone who respects individual rights. Kudos to FIRST!

Americans have many avenues to protest social injustices, protesting the National Anthem is oxymoronic as you are protesting the people and country that enables you to protest.  There are better places and avenues to protest if you truly want to effect change. 

If this is your opinion then you sadly do not understand the point of the protest, as no one kneeling is protesting our military. Thank you FRC.

Allowing someone to disrespect the values of another through the act of kneeling seems counter to gracious professionalism. 

As a FIRST participant in many different capacities for 17 years, as the wife, daughter, and granddaughter of people who have served in the military, and as someone who cares deeply about recognizing our country’s flaws and always endeavoring to do better, thank you for this. FIRST has always been about teaching students that they can be citizens of a better world - these peaceful protests call attention to a part of our society that still fails many, and students in FIRST can be part of effecting the needed change. 

My family and I have experienced this racial profiling and injustice. My son was with his white friends and he was the only one pulled aside and searched. Having said that, FIRST has always been very inclusive and has taught it's participants tolerance, team building, and professionalism. Allowing "peaceful" protests at an event such as FIRST will only create animosity and rather than "bring to the attention of injustices". If this is allowed, my son said he will feel pressured to kneel being a black person himself because his other black friends will feel like he is a traitor. If others do not kneel, are they demonstrating that they are against social equality?  Having read this change has caused my son undue stress now. His brother is in the military and he stands in respect to his freedom and the lives given for his freedom.  My son does not want to be a traitor to his friends, and is now thinking about dropping out of FIRST to avoid this whole conflict. There is a time and place to voice your opinions. Does everything we participate in have to have a political angle to it? Can't students just enjoy the thrill of respectful competition without having protests, even peaceful protests, coming to the fore-front? My family has participated  in Marches, have fought in the court-system and will keep our struggle alive until we no longer have the need, but please, let my kid just enjoy the FIRST experience without having others political agenda's interfere.  

People have the right to stand up for what's right, but this is not the way. This is disrespecting the flag and our country. I love FIRST with all my heart, but I have to say that you have made a terrible decision. When you kneel for the flag you are showing so much disrespect for our flag, veterans, and our country. FIRST is complying with these awful new ideas and I have to say it is disturbing to see a program I love so much fall off the shoulders of giants. So this next thing is a direct message to FIRST--- You may comply with the evil patterns of this world, but there are still people out there, concerned team members who love this program, that are ready to help you back up onto the shoulders of giants (If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants- Sir Isaac Newton) when you decide to respect our country, veterans, and our flag. 

We will be praying.

This seems irresponsible to me. Kids tend to protest for the sake of protesting, especially when something like this goes viral on social media. I spend an untold amount of time mentoring and bring grant dollars with me. If the protests become a big deal, I'll exercise my freedom to quit this just like I quit watching the NFL and give my time back to my family.

I think by this change FIRST is opening a Pandora's Box. While the intent seeks to get ahead of a domestic situation, I feel it is failing to protect the nature of FIRST and friendly competition. I attend a regional competition for FIRST that at times has had teams from both Turkey & Israel, and even China (among a smattering of other countries). The only thought that should go through any attendees mind during anthems is whether that seated person has an ailing foot, not whether they are silently criticizing anyone. Foreign competitors being even more susceptible to misunderstanding the situation. We stand during all anthems in respect of our competitors from those countries, anything less is far from the spirit of coopertition and gracious professionalism that has attracted my support and efforts for several years now. And leaves the door wide to chilling and uncomfortable thoughts, real, imagined or just misunderstood. Lets keep the only tension that of friendly competition and robot springs!

Deliberately refusing to stand for the national anthem (of any country) is the height of disrespectful, plain and simple.  Sanctioning such behavior as normative or acceptable is the antithesis of Gracious Professionalism.  The truly gracious professional does not choose that which others deem as sacred to be their political-activist dumping ground.  FIRST should either expect and require all participants and spectators to respect the national anthems of all countries represented (and define exactly what that means, i.e. standing, hats off, facing the flag, repeating the words of the anthem or remaining silent) or simply eliminate playing national anthems.  Those who prefer not to stand for the anthems are free to remain in the pits during that portion of the ceremony.  I reiterate, if FIRST is unwilling to openly expect and require respect during an activity that is meant to be sacred (and held as sacred by many), they should completely eliminate that sacred activity from the program.

Adding to my previous post; FIRST should prohibit any and all political activism from FIRST events (which includes intentionally showing disrespect during national anthems).  If individuals want to wage a protest or otherwise make a political statement, require them to do so outside the walls of the event venue.  Don't invite or welcome political speech or political activities inside the events.

Right, FORCE people to stand for the Anthem. Real "Home of the Free" attitude there. Easier solution is to just not play the Anthem at all. No real reason to play it before this or any other event. We don't play it before we gather to watch a movie in a movie theater. We don't play it before a large concert at at a stadium. There are plenty of large social gatherings where the Anthem is not played, never understood why we needed to play it at sporting events.

I agree. National anthems are not routinely played at sports events in much, or most of the world, and we don't need them at FIRST events. I say this as a U.S. Navy veteran.

FIRST, thank you for letting each person express themselves peacefully. This right is particularly important to me, especially because I serve as a teacher and mentor to a highly marginalized, high need student population of color. My students have felt that their voices have not had a chance to be expressed fully and loudly in society. This upcoming season will be our Rookie season, and preparing for it has already empowered and emboldened my children in numerous and immeasurable ways. FIRST's stand on this enforces to my students that FIRST is #morethanrobots and stands for inclusion of all voices and diversity. We love our veterans who fight for these very freedoms, so we can live in a country where we can truly be ourselves. We love you FIRST, thank you from me and my students for taking a bold stance.

I am a third generation veteran and I stand during the national anthem because I want to.  I am also able to respect the rights of those who choose to take a knee.  I have a lot of respect for those protesting and admire their courage. I see nothing offensive about kneeling to the troops, the nation or the flag.  I am proud to live in a free nation that allows others to peacefully protest; even if some might not agree with the protesters.

I volunteered to join the military. And, I voluntarily stand for the flag; but not because I have to.  Compelling everybody to stand takes away our freedom to do so because we want to.  Frankly, I would feel a lot different about the ceremony if I knew I had no choice but to comply.  

In 1943 the Supreme Court declared in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette that forcing students to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional.  The court wrote: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us." 

So, I applaud FIRST for finding a compromise that encourages "Gracious Professionalism" and at the same time complies with the US Constitution.  



I agree with the previous post that the National Anthem doesn’t need to be part of any sporting event. Our Founding Fathers fought for our representative democracy, not the right to throw a ball or drive a robot. Today the flag is not for honoring the military or our fallen heroes, but rather the values and philosophy our country was founded on. That includes respecting the rights of people to express unpopular views. As long as it is done respectfully and quietly, I think kneeling is fine. This policy is a good compromise in my opinion. 

This is a good compromise, to a complex issue. My preference, both for sports events, like NFL games, and FIRST competitions, would be to not play the national anthem(s), at all, as in such events in much of the world. Playing the anthem(s) is a long held tradition in the U.S., though, so not playing them would be too disruptive, as it were.

So shall we kneel when China's anthem is played, as they do not believe in Humanitarian rights, or Turkey and other middle eastern countries that do not believe in women's rights? Or any other anthem/team from a country that does not support humanitarian rights or the rights of people to freely express their views and opinions? Is this behavior acceptable at Nationals? Is this really what you intended? Standing respectively or kneeling dis-respectively for all anthems played, your choice.

It was not necessary for FIRST to entangle itself in this mess of kneeling vs. standing. I could not be more disappointed in FIRST. The entire spirit of the competition is going to be disrupted if anyone kneels! What a shame for all of these hard-working kids to have to experience this emotional stress before a competition!!!

Add new comment