On Saturday night the Buffalo Bills opened the floor for discussion about the news of the day—and what President Donald Trump said on Friday night, and doubled, then tripled down on Saturday. Owners Terry and Kim Pegula were there, as were head coach Sean McDermott, general manager Brandon Beane and assorted staff. The meeting was voluntarily for, but well attended by, players, and the truth is that it didn’t really end with any sort of conclusion.
That’s not to say it wasn’t healthy. People said their piece. But in the end the notice was too short for any sort of moment of unified clarity to come together ahead of the team’s home game against Denver on Sunday. As one person there explained it, there was “lots of talking in circles.”
So the Bills will go into Sunday’s game with everyone free to do his own thing. There’s an expectation among players that there will be plenty of protestors in the group. Others will stand for the anthem as they normally would. The meeting ended with a message on the importance of “love and equality,” which was reflected in a team-issued statement.
My sense, after asking around with numerous on Saturday, is that it’ll look like this a lot of places.
This fall Sunday will be an unusual one in the NFL, to be sure. It’s not every game week that a sitting president advocates for the firing of professional football players, then goes on social media twice the following the day to assure everyone that he meant it. But that’s what we’ll be coming off of on September 24, 2017.
The issue was important enough for teams across the league to take the valuable final hours before game day to discuss it.
As the Bills held the aforementioned meeting at their facility, the Seahawks were holding a similar summit at a Nashville hotel. The coaches and players spent more than two hours discussing how they’d handle the final minutes before Seattle’s interconference game against Titans. And the Seahawks, like the Bills, could not agree on a singular way to handle the moment, so individual players will make their own call.
But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t intrigue there—quarterback Russell Wilson, as I understand it, was against kneeling as a team last fall. This year, as one source who was there explained it, Wilson was “actually on board” with the idea of a teamwide gesture.
Meanwhile, just to the east in Charlotte, Panthers coach Ron Rivera decided that rather than hold a larger-scale meeting he’d go to a number of individual players to gather their thoughts and get the pulse of the team. The Panthers coaches, like plenty of other staffs, are in wait-and-see mode.
The bottom line? What Trump did on Friday and Saturday isn’t exactly the kind of curveball a coach learns to deal with when he’s a graduate assistant at Youngstown State or Georgia Southern. It’s not something a team captain runs into every other week and has a stock answer for.
The NFL’s a melting pot. Players and coaches come from different backgrounds and have different beliefs, and all of those get tested in a situation like this. It’s alright if everyone isn’t in lockstep, and it’s clear that was the case in meeting rooms and hotel ballrooms across the league’s landscape last night.
That makes today unpredictable, because there will be different takes on what the president did over the last two days. For some, it’s about racial inequality. For others, it’s about the anthem and the flag. For others still, it’s about the leader of the free world advocating that a private business terminate certain employees, or trying to dictate what that business’s rules on free speech should be.
So I don’t know exactly what we’ll see on Sunday. But I do think it’ll be a lot more than we saw the first two weeks of the season.
And there’s a big part of me that wonders if that’s just what Trump was looking for.
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