ORLANDO — No consensus among NFL owners was evident as they discussed the sport’s national anthem policy during this week’s annual league meeting that concluded Wednesday, according to multiple people familiar with the owners’ deliberations.
It appeared increasingly unlikely as this meeting ended that a significant number of owners will support any proposal requiring players to stand for the anthem before games, but there is the possibility of a compromise solution being enacted when the owners next meet in May in Atlanta, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
Among the potential compromises that could be discussed by the owners in May are leaving the anthem policy to be decided on a team-by-team basis and requiring players to stand for the anthem if they’re on the sideline while giving them the option to remain in the locker room if they choose, said people with knowledge of the league’s inner workings.
It also appears possible that the policy could be left unchanged.
No proposals were made and no votes were taken by the owners during this meeting, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said little Wednesday about his views on whether a change to the anthem policy is needed.
“From my standpoint, that’s something that the ownership and I will continue to discuss and focus on as we feel is needed,” Goodell said at a news conference. “I think to me, my focus has been almost entirely on listening to players, understanding better what they were protesting. We now understand that much better. We have a deeper knowledge from our players, as well as others in the communities. I think we now just want to make this platform extraordinary.”
Owners expressed a wide variety of opinions publicly during the meeting. Houston Texans owner Robert McNair said Sunday that NFL playing fields are not the place for political statements and the league and teams must make clear to any angry fans that they respect the flag. Christopher Johnson, the chairman of the New York Jets, said the league should not take action to keep players from protesting during the national anthem.
Owners’ public comments on the matter became less provocative as the week progressed, apparently at the urging of the league office.
The team-by-team approach would enable owners such as McNair and the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, who said last season that any Cowboys player who protested during the anthem would be benched, to require their players to stand for the anthem if they choose, while other owners could allow players to protest if they like.
The approach of requiring players who are on the sideline to stand but giving players the option to remain in the locker room was used for part of last season by the Miami Dolphins.
Other possibilities for the owners in May include leaving the current anthem policy unchanged, changing it to require players to stand for the anthem or leaving all players in the locker rooms until after the anthem is played before games.
The NFL’s current anthem policy, outlined in the game operations manual sent to teams by the league, requires players to be on the sideline for the anthem. It suggests but does not require that players stand for the anthem.
The league and players were criticized sharply last season by President Trump and some fans for the players’ protests during the anthem, which were started by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 to bring attention to racial inequality and police treatment of African Americans.
Goodell and many owners have said since a meeting last October in New York, when the owners declined to enact a rule requiring players to stand for the anthem, that they want players to stand but are not prepared to require it. They said then, as Goodell said Wednesday, they were focused on a social justice initiative with the players by which the league and teams are providing funding to assist players’ community activism.
The owners this week approved matching local funding for that initiative.
“The real focus of the meeting on the social justice was passing, which we did unanimously, the last piece of our program that we worked out with the Players Coalition, which was to create a platform to address the issues the players had raised, which they’re passionate about,” Goodell said Wednesday. “The ownership wanted to support that. … That was the vast majority of our conversation over the last couple days. There was some discussion on the anthem, but only in the context of, ‘Is this the platform to help the players address these issues in their communities and make sure that we’re in a better place?’ ”
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