NFL desperately looking for compromise on anthem protests
With ticket sales plummeting, TV viewership cratering, and their "brand favorability" dropping like a stone, the NFL league office hosted a meeting yesterday among league officials, the owners, and the players to find a way off the ledge the players have placed the NFL on by protesting the National Anthem.
While no specific course of action was agreed to, several teams last weekend all stood for the anthem, linking arms as a show of unity against Donald Trump's criticisms. That may be the way out for owners who realize what they're risking by standing behind players who kneel for the anthem.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held a round-table meeting with roughly 25 owners, league executives and players on Tuesday night to discuss the national anthem demonstrations.
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."
Well, no. The protests have morphed from taking a knee against black "oppression" and police brutality to a political statement in opposition to President Trump's "get that son of a b---- off the field" comments. The Packers-Bears game on Thursday night saw both teams standing for the anthem and linking arms while the crowd chanted loudly, "USA! USA!"
"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."
The owners want labor peace and an end to stunts that enrage the fans – not necessarily in that order. But don't be surprised on Sunday if all NFL teams stand for the anthem and link arms. That appears to be the extent of the compromise owners are willing to make. It also leaves the racial protesters out in the cold, preventing them from fulfilling Colin Kaepernick's promise: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." Looks as if Kaepernick's imitators won't have a choice.
Will it satisfy the fans? Standing and linking arms during the anthem could be interpreted as a respectful protest by many. But the bitter taste left by the league's refusal to discipline those who disrespected the flag isn't going away anytime soon.