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Roger Goodell encourages NFL teams to resolve anthem protests

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones before the start

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones before the start of a game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Sept. 25, 2017. Credit: Getty Images / Jennifer Stewart

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told team owners Tuesday that the divisive national anthem issue needs to be resolved in a way to “honor the flag and our country” and “respect” players’ “opinions and concerns.”

In a letter to all 32 teams, Goodell urged them to find a solution to the protests marked by kneeling and locking arms during the anthem, actions that have ignited a national political debate involving President Donald Trump and divided the owners, players and fans.

“The controversy over the anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues,” Goodell wrote. “We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”

President Trump has repeatedly criticized players who don’t stand for the anthem, and said on Twitter Tuesday that the NFL should no longer get tax breaks.

“Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!” Trump tweeted.

The NFL is no longer a tax-exempt corporation. In 2015, the league abdicated its tax-exempt status, in part because the NFL didn’t want the negative publicity when salaries of many employees, including Goodell, became public record. The league no longer has to publish those salaries.

A high-ranking NFL executive said Tuesday that the league’s owners may consider a revision of the guidelines that would make it mandatory for all players to stand during the anthem. Current league guidelines say players “should” stand during the anthem.

Goodell and the league’s owners will discuss the anthem issue in New York next Tuesday and Wednesday during their regularly scheduled fall meetings. Goodell wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Newsday, that after meeting with teams and players, the league has developed a plan that will be reviewed at the meetings.

Goodell wrote that the league believes everyone should stand for the 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 NFL requires players to be on the sideline for the anthem, but the guidelines only say they “should” stand.

NFL communications director Joe Lockhart said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters that any potential change to the guidelines would be discussed at the meetings. When asked if the word “should” might be changed to “must,” Lockhart said there is a desire among the owners “to have a common position that either affirms where we are now or adjusts where we are now. That’s all for next week.”

Lockhart said discussions about the anthem will be “front and center” at the meetings.

“They will have a chance to discuss the issue, to look at policy and look at ideas if there’s a need to change the policies,” Lockhart said.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who took a knee along with his entire team before the playing of the anthem before a Monday night game in Arizona earlier this month, has now demanded that all his players stand for the anthem at the risk of being benched. No Cowboys player has demonstrated during the anthem.

The Miami Dolphins have also announced that they want all their players to stand for the song.

Lockhart declined to say whether the league believes that a team can force players to stand for the anthem.

“I’m not going to predict what might happen,” Lockhart said.

The NBA has a rule in place requiring players to stand during the anthem, and commissioner Adam Silver said last month he expects NBA players to continue to stand for the anthem.

Goodell closed Tuesday’s letter by saying that the NFL is “at its best when we ourselves are unified. In that spirit, let’s resolve that next week when we will meet this challenge in a unified and positive way.”

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