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The NFL Will Not Ask Players to Stop Kneeling During the National Anthem

After a meeting between players, owners, and the league on Tuesday, the NFL is looking to continue a dialogue around political issues

NFL: NFL Owners Meetings Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he did not ask players to stand for the national anthem at the league’s meeting with players and owners on Tuesday to address the widespread protests that have taken place during and around the national anthem at games over the past few weeks.

“We did not ask for that,” Goodell said. “We spent today talking about the issues that players have been trying to bring attention to — issues to make our communities better. I think we all agree there’s nothing more important than trying to give back to our communities and make them better. That was the entire focus of today.”

Last week, a leaked memo Goodell sent to all 32 teams indicated the league was developing a plan to respond to players protesting during the anthem. The memo was made public an hour after CNBC reported that the NFL was pursuing “a rule change that would require players to stand for the national anthem.”

After the meeting, which lasted more than two hours and was also intended to promote a discussion between the players and the league on political issues, some players had positive things to say. Colts defensive back Darius Butler said that while he didn’t expect there to be a resolution overnight, he saw the gathering as a good first step.

“I think the ownership, the team, the league, and the players, I think are all going in the right direction,” Butler told ESPN. “Obviously these are issues important to the players. That’s what we talked about and some things going forward.”

He added that he did not think there would be any changes to the rules surrounding protocol during the anthem anytime soon. Eric Reid, the 49ers safety, told The MMQB the meetings were a starting point, but that he would continue to kneel during the pregame anthem. Reid was seen wearing an “#IMWITHKAP” T-shirt as he exited the NFL offices in New York.

“There wasn’t much that was going to happen in a two-hour meeting,” Reid said. “We started this to raise awareness and to effectuate change. We’re on the path to make the change we think we can make, we are just not there yet.”

Not all reports from the meeting were glowing, though. Former NFL lineman Willie Colon, now an analyst for SportsNet New York, said players in attendance told him “nothing got done,” and that when former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s name was brought up, the summit was paused for a bathroom break.

More than a dozen players and 11 owners attended the meeting, including Josh Norman and Chris Long and owners Robert Kraft and Jed York. Dallas owner Jerry Jones, who threatened to bench players who were “disrespecting the flag,” and Kaepernick, who began protesting police brutality by kneeling during the anthem last season, did not attend the meeting. A statement released by Kaepernick’s lawyers said he was not invited by the owners despite other players wanting him present.

The new wave of protests began in late September after President Donald Trump used the phrase “son of a bitch” in reference to players who kneel during the anthem, adding that such players should be “fired.” In the following weeks, members of nearly every team protested in some manner, ranging from four teams remaining in the locker room during the anthem’s playing to the Cowboys locking arms and kneeling in unison with Jones.

ESPN reported that the players and owners have agreed to meet again to continue the discussion on the issue.