NFL owners, players finding the same page

By Chris Mascaro, The Sports Xchange  |  Oct. 18, 2017 at 6:36 PM
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NEW YORK -- It appears as if the main thing to come out of Tuesday's meeting between NFL players and owners was mutual respect.

Many owners acknowledged the players' right to protest and what they are protesting about, and seem willing to effect change in whatever form that may take in their respective communities. The players seemed appeased by having the owners at least hear them out on these topics, and in the owners' willingness to continue the conversation in later meetings.

Commissioner Roger Goodell, at the conclusion of the league's fall meetings Wednesday afternoon, reiterated his stance that he hopes every player will stand for the national anthem. League bylaws state players "should" stand for the anthem, but no mandate to do so will be put into place, Goodell said Wednesday.

President Trump is unhappy with that news. Early Wednesday morning, he tweeted, "The NFL has decided that it will not force players to stand for the playing of our National Anthem. Total disrespect for our great country!"

San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York said Tuesday the owners and players should "block out the noise" coming from the President so that they can focus on the issues, but some fans agree with Trump and are boycotting NFL games.

Fans on the other side have also boycotted the league, upset that Colin Kaepernick, who began the anthem protest last year, is still out of a job while players they view as inferior to him are being picked up. Kaepernick filed a grievance with the league Sunday, stating the owners have colluded to keep him out of the league.

It's possible the sentiments on both sides have led to a slight downturn in the NFL's TV ratings, which have dropped 7.5 percent through the first six weeks of the season compared to last year, according to ESPN.

"I understand how our fans feel about this issue, and we feel the same way," Goodell said, agreeing with those who want all players to stand, adding that the national anthem "is an important part of our game."

Insofar as that stance goes, Goodell said he doesn't want to delve further into a political conversation and hasn't contacted the President about the matter.

"What we're trying to do is get people back focused on football," he said.

While the owners and players are seeking compromise, "there isn't a quid pro quo," according to Giants owner John Mara, who added that he wants his players to continue standing for the anthem, and that the majority of people he hears from on this issue feel the same.

So now it'll be up to each individual team on what to do, if anything, about protesting players.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said last week he would bench any player who kneeled for the anthem, but that claim doesn't appear to have much teeth.

Will any players call his bluff? If so, it remains to be seen what will be done at the league level. When asked about the potential for that situation Wednesday, Goodell said he "can't deal with hypotheticals."

York, like most of the other owners who made their stances known, said Tuesday he wouldn't punish players for kneeling, and 49ers safety Eric Reid already said he'll continue to do so.

Goodell said only "about six or seven" players have been protesting, but his count likely only includes players who took a knee during the anthem. Others, like Russell Okung of the Chargers and Malcolm Jenkins of the Eagles, have raised their fist, while others, like Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas and Julius Thomas of the Dolphins, remained in the locker room until the song was over this past weekend.

Despite the ongoing protests, some players view the owners even sitting down to hear them out as progress.

Though now retired, Anquan Boldin sat in with the players at Tuesday morning's meeting and said to ESPN's Jim Trotter on Wednesday the owners told them "they were doing the American thing by protesting peacefully."

"These are things that we had never heard from owners before," Boldin added.

Players and owners will have a follow-up meeting on Oct. 31 to continue the conversation on social issues and how they can support those causes, ESPN's Dan Graziano reports, who added "the expectation is that such meetings will continue on a regular basis for the foreseeable future."

"We're not afraid of the tough conversations," Goodell said. "That's what we had yesterday."

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