Barring a dramatic last-minute breakthrough, the NFL and NFL Players Association are poised to continue deliberating a national anthem policy into the regular season and keep their recently forged standstill agreement in effect, several people familiar with the situation said Thursday.
The league and the NFLPA have made little meaningful progress thus far toward a potential compromise, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the NFL and the union have vowed to keep their talks confidential.
Under that standstill agreement, which was reached in July, the NFL is keeping the modified anthem policy ratified by team owners in May on hold while the union is not moving forward on the grievance that it filed over that revamped policy.
It appears the holding pattern will likely continue into the regular season, which opens next Thursday night in Philadelphia with the Eagles, the reigning Super Bowl champions, hosting the Atlanta Falcons. If so, the league would not implement or enforce any rules by which a player could be disciplined for a protest during the anthem, despite the NFL’s stated preference for players to stand during it. Players would be permitted to remain in the locker room for the anthem if they choose.
The league and union declined to comment publicly.
One person with knowledge of the deliberations said there has been “no movement at this time” toward a compromise and that the “current rule is still under a freeze.”
Asked about the possibility of a last-minute resolution before the season, that person said: “I’d assume [the negotiations between the league and union will continue] into the season.”
Two others familiar with the situation echoed the belief that deliberations between the NFL and NFLPA will continue into the regular season.
It’s not clear if any owners would make a last-minute push next week for the league to put in a new policy on its own, or reinstate the May policy if progress in negotiations with the union remains elusive. Some owners, including the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and the Houston Texans’ Robert McNair, have been adamant that players should be required to stand for the anthem.
Representatives of the league and union met Monday in the New York area. Owners and players participated in that meeting. Afterward, the league and union issued a joint written statement in which they said they “remain committed to working together on solutions.”
The discussions are said to have been constructive, but finding a compromise has been difficult. The deliberations began with owners still interested in trying to get players to agree to stand for the anthem, according to people familiar with the league’s inner workings. Players expressed a preference to stick with last season’s anthem policy, which suggested that players stand for the anthem but did not require it.
Owners modified the policy in May, making a revision that empowered the league to fine a team for any protest by one of its players during the anthem. It left it up to an individual team whether a player would be disciplined. It also gave players the option to remain in the locker room during the anthem. That was a change from last season’s policy, which required players to be on the field. The league did not enforce that provision last season, however.
The union filed a grievance over the May policy and contemplated litigation. All of that was halted, along with implementation of the May anthem policy, by the standstill agreement the league and union struck in July.
After some players protested and some remained off the field during the anthem in the opening slate of preseason games, the NFL announced it would not discipline players for protests while it attempted to reach a resolution with the NFLPA.
“While those discussions continue, the NFL has agreed to delay implementing or enforcing any club work rules that could result in players being disciplined for their conduct during the performance of the anthem,” the league said in a written statement issued then.
That statement by the league also said “there has been no change in the NFL’s policy regarding the national anthem. The anthem will continue to be played before every game, and all player and non-player personnel on the field at that time are expected to stand during the presentation of the flag and performance of the anthem. Personnel who do not wish to do so can choose to remain in the locker room.”
The protest movement by players began during the 2016 season when quarterback Colin Kaepernick, then with the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the anthem before games to protest racial inequality and police treatment of African Americans. Some players continued to protest last season with Kaepernick out of the league. A national debate over the issue intensified after President Trump sharply criticized the players’ protests. Trump’s criticism has continued in recent weeks.
Kaepernick has remained unsigned and last year filed a grievance accusing teams and the league of improperly colluding against him. An arbitrator this week allowed Kaepernick’s collusion case to continue by rejecting a request by the NFL for the case to be dismissed. That ruling by arbitrator Stephen B. Burbank was announced Thursday by Mark Geragos, an attorney for Kaepernick, and sets the stage for a triallike hearing before Burbank expected to be scheduled for later this year.
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