Is the tide about to turn on anthem protests at NFL games?
NFL President Roger Goodell convened something of a summit meeting involving league officials, owners, and players to discuss the national anthem protests. While precious few details of the meeting have been released, players who commented on the substance of the get-together appear to confirm that owners want the protests to stop while the players seem willing to go forward with them.
Last weekend, several teams linked arms and stood for the anthem, which may form the basis of some kind of compromise where taking a knee will be banned but the protest against Donald Trump’s “get that son of a bitch out of there” comments will continue.
New York Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas said the summit at the league’s headquarters in New York lasted roughly two hours and was attended by several of the NFL’s most prominent owners, including John Mara of the Giants, Robert Kraft of the Patriots and Art Rooney II of the Steelers. NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent also attended along with eight players from five teams.
Casillas said the group talked about what to do to move forward and how to approach the “whole kneeling situation.”
“It was a whole bunch of opinions shared,” Casillas said. “There was nothing we decided we’re going to do collectively. I think it was a very conducive meeting.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the gathering was one of the many conversations that have happened this week within the NFL.
“The commissioner believed with all the owners here for committee meetings it was important to bring in some players and hear directly from them,” McCarthy said in responding to an email from The Associated Press. “While the conversations will remain private, they were very informative and instructive.”
Patriots safety Devin McCourty and special teams captain Matt Slater both joined Kraft for the meeting with Goodell. McCourty said his biggest takeaway was “just understanding.”
“From both sides,” McCourty said. “I think that players saw that when owners came out with different statements on Sunday. I think the biggest thing is as players we have to keep in the forefront what we want to get (awareness for) — the inequality, the injustice. I think that’s what’s important.”
McCourty emphasized not only the unity on the Patriots, but throughout the NFL.
“I think we gotta make sure this whole thing doesn’t turn into the NFL vs. Donald Trump,” he said. “As players … we have an agenda of what we think can be done better. We’re trying to use our platform. We have to stick to that.
“It’s not really this war of whether does the NFL have our back or let’s battle Trump. But I do think (the owners) are willing to help us get some of these things going. Hopefully that is what happens out of all of this.”
On Thursday night before the Bears-Packers game, both teams stood linking arms during the anthem and thousands of people in the stands chanted, “USA! USA!.” While some will claim that linking arms is a respectful protest, I think that explanation will fall on mostly deaf ears.
While the players say there was no unified action plan for anthem protests, Steelers owner Art Rooney made it clear the anthem protests were over and the team would “be respectful for the flag.” The Cowboys and Saints also said they would stand for the anthem on Sunday, although no word about arm linking.
I think it likely that after the players left the meeting, the owners agreed to halt the silliness which threatens the future of the league. Ticket sales have plummeted, TV viewership is down, and the NFL “Brand favorability” rating has been cut in half since Trump drew attention to the issue.
At the same time, the league and owners want labor peace. Banning the protests altogether might initiate a backlash by players against teams. So we can probably expect several teams to try the arm linking protest and gauge reaction to that.
Meanwhile, those who claim their protest was against racial injustice and police brutality find themselves on the outside looking in. Colin Kaepernick made it clear in his statement explaining his kneeling protest:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Standing for the anthem — even if it’s still a protest — directly contradicts Kaepernick’s reasoning that the flag isn’t worth standing for. Will black players honor Kaepernick’s wishes and kneel beside their standing teammates or will they cave in to owners wishes that the kneeling stop?
It should be another interesting Sunday in the NFL.