President Donald Trump commended NFL commissioner Roger Goodell Wednesday for demanding that players stand for the national anthem, but the league quickly disputed Trump’s interpretation of a portion of a letter Goodell sent to all 32 teams on Tuesday.
In a Wednesday morning tweet, Trump wrote, “It is about time that Roger Goodell of the NFL is finally demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem-RESPECT OUR COUNTRY.”
The league issued a statement later Wednesday morning pushing back against Trump’s belief that Goodell is now demanding that players stand.
“Commentary this morning about the commissioner’s position on the anthem is not accurate,” the statement read. “As we said [Tuesday], there will be a discussion of these issues at the owners meeting next week. The NFL is doing the hard work of trying to move from protest to progress, working to bring people together.”
Trump’s tweet was in reaction to Goodell’s letter to league executives on Tuesday, in which he said it is his preference that players stand for the anthem. He did not issue a demand, however.
Several NFL players continue to take a knee or raise a fist on the sidelines during the anthem as their way of protesting racial injustice in America.
“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem,” Goodell wrote Tuesday. “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.”
The NFL and NFL Players Association released a joint statement on Wednesday. The statement said Goodell reached out to NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and that Smith and player leadership will be attending next week’s league meetings.
Goodell and NFL owners are scheduled to meet next Tuesday and Wednesday in New York for their annual fall meetings, and the anthem will be a central focus of the discussions. NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said it is possible that the owners could decide to tweak language in its game operations guidelines that would require players to stand for the anthem. The current wording in the rule says players “must” appear on the sidelines for the anthem and that they “should” stand when the song is played.
“There has been no change in the current policy regarding the anthem,” the NFL and NFLPA joint statement said.
On Wednesday, Jets linebacker Demario Davis addressed the idea that the NFL might demand players stand for the anthem.
“I don’t know in any workplace where you can actually demand an employee to do something,” Davis said. “It’s an employer-employee relationship. It’s not imperialism. It’s not a dictatorship. You can ask, you can imply, but if you demand it, that can become a whole issues between workers and the union. All of it’s just talk right now, so we’ll see.”
The league’s statement Wednesday said Goodell spent Tuesday with “Miami Dolphins players, law enforcement and community leaders witnessing firsthand the outstanding work our players and clubs are doing to strengthen their communities.”
The statement also said that “players from around the league will be in New York next week to meet with owners to continue our work together.” Owners often invite players to attend meetings if there are topics for which player input is solicited.
Davis attended a meeting last week with league officials and owners about the anthem protests.
“It’s just been talk, so there’s no need to talk about talk,” Davis said. “We’ll see what happens, whatever goes down.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on Sunday said he will require his players to stand for the anthem and would bench them if they don’t. One of the league’s most outspoken owners since purchasing the Cowboys in 1989, Jones may urge his colleagues to take a similarly strong position on anthem protocol.
ESPN reported that Jones met with Cowboys players and coaches on Wednesday. According to the report, Jones said his feelings on the anthem protests was an attempt to deflect attention away from the players. He also told the players he wanted them to consider the business part of the controversy, including TV ratings and sponsors, the report said.
Trump said last month that owners should fire players who kneel during the anthem. Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the movement of kneeling during the anthem last season. Kaepernick is currently a free agent.
Meanwhile, a backup quarterback for Albright College, a Division III school in Pennsylvania, has been cut for kneeling during the anthem, according to multiple reports. The Associated Press reported that sophomore Gyree Durante was cut after violating a team decision to kneel during the coin toss, but stand during the anthem.