NFL owners gather to discuss National Anthem protests

Jeffrey Toobin: Collusion is difficult to prove
Jeffrey Toobin: Collusion is difficult to prove

NFL owners have a lot to talk about.

They're gathering in New York for two days of meetings, with the league convulsed by player protests during the National Anthem -- and by opposition to the protests, led by President Trump himself.

Team owners are expected to discuss the protests. But an NFL spokesman says the league does not expect to change its policy, which says only that players should stand during the Anthem, not that they must.

After Tuesday's meeting, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that players were not asked to commit to standing for the anthem.

Beginning with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last year, dozens of players have taken a knee during the Anthem to protest racial injustice. Kaepernick is now a free agent, and has filed a grievance against the owners, alleging they colluded to keep him from being signed.

Kaepernick "was not invited to attend" the NFL's meetings by the league or any team executives, according to the attorney representing him in his grievance claim. However, "players wanted him present and have asked that he attend the next meeting."

According to his attorney's statement, Kaepernick is "open to future participation."

Related: Trump's grievance with the NFL goes way back

Several players met with a group of team owners before the larger league meeting to discuss social activism.

Last week, Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league needs to "move past this controversy" over the anthem. But he said, "Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem."

The protests got even more attention after President Trump denounced them during a campaign-style rally in Alabama in September. He said that any players who refused to stand should be fired.

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired. He's fired,'" he said.

After Trump's attack, hundreds of players joined the protest, and the NFL promoted the message that it was unified.

Several owners released statements criticizing the president's comments and some locked arms with their players during the anthem.

Since that show of solidarity, the strain has only grown. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said any player who "disrespects the flag" will not play.

Related: NFL announces support for criminal justice reform

On Tuesday, San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York told reporters that owners are working to help players advance their message.

York said he initially "didn't understand it" and was against Kaepernick's decision to take a knee during the anthem. But he sat down with him and eventually came to see his side and respect him.

"Racial and socioeconomic inequality have existed in this country for way too long," York said.

"Our players are not trying to be disrespectful to the flag. They're not disrespectful to our country. They're trying to bring awareness to issues that come from their communities that most people that look like me don't understand."

York said he sees what other teams and owners are going through now because he went through it. He said all the owners, including Jones, have a much different perspective now and that he doesn't think any players will be reprimanded.

"It's not trying to trade off to get somebody to stand up, you want to make sure that people feel compelled to do what they feel comfortable with," York said.

"Even if you don't agree with what the sort of messaging is of taking a knee, we need to get the messaging away from the detractors that want to sidetrack the issues of social and racial inequality."

York said "this is one of the proudest days that I've ever felt being a part of the National Football League."

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