NFL retreats on policy that would require players to stand during anthem
Last week, the NFL commissioner's office signaled that a change in policy was on the way that would make standing for the National Anthem mandatory rather than voluntary.
But the players and their allies in the media pushed back – hard. Rather than see a huge blowup by players defying a mandatory standing policy, the commissioner, Roger Goodell, has apparently caved in and will make only cosmetic changes to the policy.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, along with the head of the NFL Players Association, will meet with the owners from Oct. 17-18 in New York where the issue of player protests during the U.S. national anthem is expected to command much attention.
"(Goodell) has a plan that he is going to present to owners about how to use our platform to both raise awareness and make progress on issues of social justice and equality in this country," NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said on a conference call.
"What we don't have is a proposal that changes our policy, we don't have something that mandates anything. That's clear. If that was the case I doubt the head of the NFLPA would have put a joint statement out with us."
The statement released on Wednesday said Goodell invited NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith to the meetings and that the agenda will be a continuation of how to make progress on the important social issues that players have vocalized.
The protests, in a league where African-Americans make up the majority of players, have continued through the current season, with some players kneeling and others standing arm-in-arm in solidarity.
The gesture is intended to call attention to what protesting players see as a pattern of racism in the treatment of African-Americans by U.S. police.
The issue has been exacerbated after U.S. President Donald Trump said last month that players who did not stand during the anthem should be fired.
Lockhart said the discussions will focus on how to use the broad platforms of the NFL, players and clubs to try and make progress on issues of equality, social justice and criminal justice reform.
"These are issues that are important to our clubs, issues that are important to our players, issues that are important to the communities in which we play," said Lockhart.
"That's what we are discussing. So for everyone who has speculated over the last few days that somehow there is a proposal that is set for a vote on Tuesday or Wednesday you are speculating.
"Those who are reporting it as fact are reporting it incorrectly."
Goodell's "plan" will be to mouth meaningless platitudes while the players continue to kneel. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who gave an ultimatum to his players to stand for the anthem or sit for the game, is also apparently backing off his hard-line stance.
Of course, Goodell and the owners just wish the whole thing would go away. But Donald Trump, who criticized NFL players who kneel for the anthem during his speech at the Values Voters Summit, is of no mind to drop the subject. This means that the NFL brand will be damaged further by the players. It won't begin to cost the owners real money unless the TV networks and sponsors demand that the league do something about the toxic protest. A renegotiation of the TV contract to reflect the reality of fewer viewers might be in order that would hit the owners where it hurts most.
And they would have only themselves to blame.
There will be football this Sunday.