NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and 11 team owners met for nearly four hours Tuesday in Manhattan with more than a dozen current and former players and NFL Players Association executives to discuss a range of social issues, with representatives from both sides calling the meetings constructive.
Protesting the national anthem by some players was not a major topic of conversation, and the league did not introduce any revised rules that would require players to stand.
Goodell said the owners didn’t ask for a commitment from the players that they would stand for the anthem.
“We spent today talking about the issues that the players have tried to bring attention to,” Goodell said. “Our players are men of great character. They have a very deep understanding and a tremendous knowledge of the issues that are going on in all of our communities, and their commitment to addressing these issues is really admirable. It’s something that our owners looked at and say, ‘We want to help support you.’ Those are issues that affect us. There are issues that we’d like to do it together.”
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said the anthem issue wasn’t a major talking point. It has been a lightning rod of controversy since the start of last season, when then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat for, then kneeled during the song to protest racial injustice in the United States,
“Very, very little of the meeting was about the actual anthem,” Jenkins said. “We were talking about solutions and how we get the results that we want to get.”
Jenkins said Kaepernick was invited to the meeting by the players’ delegation, but did not attend. Jenkins said he didn’t know why he wasn’t there. Kaepernick’s attorney, Mark Geragos, said in a statement that Kaepernick was invited by the players and might consider attending future meetings. Geragos is representing Kaepernick in his grievance against the league, in which he claims the NFL has colluded to deny him the chance to play again. Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers in March and has not been signed by another team.
“I think (the owners) wanted to get a better understanding as to what it is that we were looking for as players and support our voices,” Jenkins said. “I think we’ll continue to work that out and what that looks like. It was good to finally meet face to face, get some understanding and move on from there.”
Owners said they were encouraged by the open dialogue with the players.
The 49ers’ Jed York, who was involved in Tuesday morning’s meeting with the players, said, “This is one of the proudest days” he has had as an owner. He credited Kaepernick with starting the discussion with his protests.
“The more you sit with the players and hear what they’re fighting for,” York said, “it’s hard to disagree with them.”
Said Dolphins owner Stephen Ross: “We heard what they had to say and they heard us. It’s open talks and that’s a good thing.”
Giants co-owner Steve Tisch said the owners and players “feel very good about a dialogue that’s starting. It’s the first step, I hope, of a number of steps in the right direction. Needless to say, it’s a very important issue. I feel very good that ownership and the league are focusing very, very carefully and appropriately on these issues.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said last week he would bench players who don’t stand for the anthem. He said Tuesday that the “meetings were very informative,” although he indicated he would speak more extensively on the issue when the meetings conclude Wednesday.
Two protestors confronted Jones in the lobby of the hotel where the owners met. Carl Dix, who said he represents a group called RefuseFascism.com, accused Jones of “muzzling black football players.” Jones stopped and listened to the comments before hotel security interceded.
Asked if he was bothered by the protestors, Jones said, “No. I just wanted to hear what he had to say.”
Jones’ son, Stephen, a high-ranking Cowboys executive, was present when the protestors appeared. “It comes with the territory,’’ Stephen Jones said. “He’s trying to be respectful and hear them out, and he proceeded to move on.”