NFL owners are not expected to require players to stand for the national anthem when they meet Tuesday and Wednesday in New York to discuss ways of resolving controversy surrounding players who protest during the anthem by taking a knee or raising a fist.
League spokesman Joe Lockhart, who last week hinted that the league might change its guidelines to make all players stand for the anthem, said Monday that no change in the league’s current policy is expected. Under the league’s guidelines, players must appear on the sidelines for the playing of the anthem, and that they should stand for the song.
“I anticipate a very productive presentation of things we can do to work together,” Lockhart said on a conference call when asked about whether the league would force players to stand for the anthem. “Beyond that, I don’t anticipate anything.”
Asked again whether that meant the league would not enact a rule to make players stand, Lockhart said, “I’m not anticipating anything.”
Last week, Lockhart left open the possibility that the league would revisit its game operations manual regarding the anthem.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump again criticized NFL players who protest during the national anthem on Monday, saying that the league should suspend them for one game or more.
“When you go down and take a knee — you’re sitting essentially — for our our national anthem, you’re disrespecting our flag and you’re disrespecting our country,” Trump said during a news conference at the White House. “The NFL should’ve suspended some of these players for one game. Not fire them. Suspended them for one game and then if they did it again, it could be one game then two games then three games and then for the season.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, in a letter sent to all 32 teams last Tuesday, encouraged the owners and players to resolve the anthem issue at this week’s meetings. The league will meet Tuesday with executives from the NFL Players Association, as well as current and former players.
“The current dispute over the national anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country,” Goodell wrote. “I’m very proud of our players and owners who have done the hard work over the past year to listen, understand and attempt to address the underlying issues within their communities.”
Goodell said the league believes that “everyone should stand for the national anthem. 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 closed the letter by saying 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.”
Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose protests last season during the anthem to draw attention to racial injustice in America sparked a nationwide debate that continues today, will not be at the meetings, Lockhart said.
Kaepernick remains unsigned after voiding his contract with the 49ers in March. He has filed a grievance against the NFL, alleging that league owners have colluded against him because no team has signed him. Lockhart said the collective bargaining agreement prohibits league or union officials from commenting on any legal proceedings involving the league.
The NFLPA also has not commented on the grievance.
Representatives from the league and NFLPA hope to find common ground not only on the protests during the anthem, but also on raising awareness of the issues to which players are trying to draw attention.
“The commissioner and league staff will be presenting a plan to use the platform that the NFL enjoys to raise awareness about many of the issues, but more importantly to make progress on them,” Lockhart said. “It is something we’ve been working with our players on the last couple of months, and we will present that [Tuesday].”
“The debate has been going on, both at the national level, but importantly at the state level in capitals around the country,” Lockhart said. “A key area is coming together and using the strength and the muscle of the players of the platform they have and the league has.”