After facing criticism for requesting that players not kneel during pre-game national anthems, National Football League (NFL) commissioner Roger Goodell announced yesterday (October 17) that the league will not change its national anthem policy.
"We did not ask for it," said Goodell, as quoted by ESPN, about a prospective policy change that would have prevented players from kneeling during the national anthem. Colin Kaepernick began kneeling last season in protest of police violence and structural racism. Other players picked up the protest and carried it into the current season, when it invited repeated criticism from President Donald Trump. Goodell rejected Trump’s call to fire protesting players, but incurred new criticism last week when he issued a memo to team owners saying that players could help the league "move past this controversy" by standing.
Goodell’s memo led critics to believe that he and the league’s 32 team owners—some of whom, despite directly supporting Trump’s presidential campaign, linked arms in apparent support of their First Amendment rights—would update league policy to mandate that players stand for the anthem. Instead, Goodell says that he spoke with players and team owners yesterday about how to support individual players’ community advocacy and criminal justice work. NFL public relations staffer Brian McCarthy tweeted the following joint statement from the league and the NFL Players Association union:
New from the NFL and NFLPA pic.twitter.com/lMQMhlDGAB
— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) October 17, 2017
ESPN reports that Philadelphia Eagles player Malcolm Jenkins, a member of the Players Coalition advocacy group who co-signed a letter asking Goodell to support its racial and criminal justice advocacy work, was one of 12 current NFL players present for yesterday’s meeting.
"This was the first time we have gotten the chance to sit down in front of ownership," Jenkins told ESPN. "We felt they were receptive. We felt there was a real dialogue. We felt it was positive."
San Francisco 49ers player Eric Reid, who kneeled alongside Kaepernick last season, told Sports Illustrated that the meetings are "a starting point."
"This is a long-term project, if you want to call it that," he adds. "There wasn’t much that was going to happen in a two-hour meeting. We are going to continue to meet, continue to have dialogue and figure out a way to get these issues on track.” Reid also said that he will continue kneeling during the national anthem to protest racist policing.
Reid’s former teammate Kaepernick, who recently filed a grievance alleging that the NFL conspired to punish his protests with his ongoing free agency, was not present at these meetings. Reid told Sports Illustrated that he discussed Kaepernick and the need to maintain the original messaging of his protest with the owners and other players. Kaepernick’s lawyer Mark Geragos told ESPN that the NFL did not invite him to the meeting, but other players requested his presence at future meetings on social justice topics.
The meetings, which continue today with other agenda items, came a day after the NFL endorsed a bipartisan federal criminal justice reform bill that would eliminate "three strikes" life sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. This endorsement marks the first time the league officially supported a criminal justice measure.
ESPN also reports that nearly two dozen activists gathered outside the meetings in solidarity with protesting players. These protesters, representing a number of advocacy groups, held signs reading, "It is our duty to fight for our freedom" and "White silence = White violence" while taking knees in solidarity with Kaepernick and those who followed him.