With the NFL and NFL Players Association trying to negotiate a resolution to the league’s dilemma over its national anthem policy by the start of the season, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II said “there’s common ground to be found” and he’s hopeful the two sides can reach a compromise on a new policy that applies to all players and teams.
Representatives of the league and union met Friday and said the deliberations will continue.
“I think it’s a positive development, and hopefully we can come up with a uniform policy for all clubs and all players,” Rooney said in a phone interview Friday. “I think there’s common ground to be found here. I am optimistic that the two sides are talking now.”
Rooney declined to speculate on the possible terms of a resolution, saying he did not participate in Friday’s meeting.
“I haven’t been part of the talks,” he said.
The owners ratified an anthem policy at their May meeting in Atlanta, empowering the league to fine a team if a player protests during the anthem. It leaves up to the team whether a player would be disciplined for a protest and gives players the option to remain in the locker room during the anthem. The league’s previous anthem policy required players to be on the field for the anthem. It suggested but did not require that they stand for the anthem.
The union filed a grievance over the new policy and contemplated possible legal action. Last week, the league and union agreed to put both implementation of the policy and the NFLPA’s grievance on hold while trying to work out a resolution.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said this week that players on his team must stand for the anthem and will not be permitted to remain in the locker room, which would violate the policy ratified in May. But with the policy under review, it’s not clear if Jones’s declaration would go into effect in the event of a failure to reach a resolution.
Rooney did not directly address the Cowboys’ situation but said that those in the league should allow the current deliberations to play out in hopes of a resolution that applies to all.
“For the first time in the last two years of this thing, we have the players’ association willing to sit down and talk with us,” Rooney said. “I don’t know if that’s our fault or their fault. But it’s good that we’re talking. The goal here should be to come out with a uniform policy that applies to all clubs and all players. I hope everyone lets the process play out and we come up with something.”
There remains strong sentiment among the owners to get the players to agree to stand for the anthem, according to multiple people familiar with the league’s inner workings. It remains unclear what, if anything, the players would seek in return to consider making such a pledge and what, if anything, the league would offer. Some players have said they would prefer a return to the policy in effect before May without restrictions on protests.
“I go back to where we were at the end of last year,” Rooney said. “There were a small number of players protesting. The vast majority of the players don’t want to protest. They want to find a resolution to this, and they want to focus on football, as we do.”
People involved in the deliberations between the league and union declined to comment on the details of Friday’s meeting beyond a joint written statement released by the NFL and NFLPA.
“A short time ago, the NFL and NFLPA concluded a constructive meeting regarding the anthem policy and the very serious social justice issues that have been the basis of some players’ protests,” the statement said. “We are encouraged by the discussions and plan to continue our conversations.”