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NFL owners to mull anthem rules as Trump ups protest criticism

The Washington Post

October 10. 2017 8:29PM
Washington's Niles Paul (84), Ryan Anderson (52), and Chris Carter (55) kneel with teammates during the playing of the national anthem before a Sept. 24 game between the Washington Redskins and the Oakland Raiders at FedEx Field. (Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday that team owners will discuss a plan when they meet next week for dealing with the raging national controversy over players’ protests during the national anthem, adding that while the league respects the right of its players to express their opinions, it believes they should stand during the playing of the anthem.

While stopping short of saying the NFL would require its players to stand, Goodell strongly suggested in a letter to NFL teams that at next week’s meeting the league would propose to owners that players be required to do so, while also providing a platform to recognize their community activism.

“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem,” Goodell wrote to NFL club presidents and chief executives. “It is an important moment in our game. 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.”

Goodell said the league’s plan would include “an in-season platform to promote the work of players” on social issues, “and that will help to promote positive change in our country.”

Next week’s meeting in New York was previously scheduled, but the ongoing controversy over the national anthem forced the issue to the top of the agenda. “There is no fixed proposal. We will have a discussion around all of these issues,” said one person familiar with the league’s deliberations.

Goodell has had recent discussions with owners and player leaders over the anthem issue. One set of conversations has come with a group of players including Malcolm Jenkins, Anquan Boldin, Michael Bennett and Torrey Smith. Those players have asked for official league support of players’ community activism.

“I expect and look forward to a full and open discussion of these issues when we meet next week in New York,” Goodell wrote. “Everyone involved in the game needs to come together on a path forward to continue to be a force for good within our communities, protect the game, and preserve our relationship with fans throughout the country. The NFL is at its best when we ourselves are unified. In that spirit, let’s resolve that next week we will meet this challenge in a unified and positive way.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, was asked about Goodell’s letter at her daily briefing and said: “We would support the NFL coming out and asking players to stand, as the President has done. . . . Our position hasn’t changed on that front. We’re glad to see NFL taking positive steps in that direction.”

The NFL Players Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Goodell’s memo.

Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications and public affairs, declined in a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning to give a direct answer when asked whether the league believes that a team, under current rules, is within its rights to compel its players to stand for the anthem.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Sunday that any Cowboys player who protests during the anthem and, in Jones’s view, thereby shows disrespect to the American flag will be benched and will not play.

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross also has said he expects his team’s players to stand for the anthem. The Dolphins enacted a policy this past weekend by their coach, Adam Gase, in which players must stand for the anthem if on the team’s sideline, but have the option to remain in the locker room or in the tunnel leading to the field for the anthem.

“We’re going to do this together as an ownership group and a league with the players,” Lockhart said Tuesday.

Owners are scheduled to meet next Tuesday and Wednesday in Manhattan. It is their regular fall meeting and was scheduled before the anthem controversy was amplified by recent comments made by President Donald Trump criticizing players for protesting during the national anthem.

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