Skip to main content

What Roger Goodell’s Memo Means for the National Anthem Protests Going Forward

After Roger Goodell’s memo to team owners, how will the NFL react to player protests during the national anthem? Plus answering readers’ questions

Things you need to know this morning about where the issue of players standing for the national anthem lies, and what the league might do to force players to do so:

1. The league currently has no proposal prepared to vote on next week at the NFL owners’ meeting in New York that would mandate players to stand at attention for the national anthem. This could be semantics. But I was told on Tuesday that the NFL is focused on trying to build a bridge to the players so that leaders such as Malcolm Jenkins and Doug Baldwin—and the NFL Players Association—could feel good about partnering with the league on some community initiatives.

2. Roger Goodell did lay down the gauntlet on Tuesday, however. While Goodell was in Miami participating in a ride along with three Dolphins players and the North Miami Police Department and the Broward Country Sheriff’s Department, ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the story of Goodell’s memo to NFL ownership. It said, in part: “Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem … We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us.” Goodell said the league “wanted to move past this controversy … together with our players.” The tenor of the memo was clear: Although the league might feel the anthem controversy has been hijacked by the President and Vice President, we’re not going to make progress on the issues the players care about by continuing to protest during the anthem. We’ve got to stand for the anthem or risk alienating a huge swath of our fans. Now the question will be: Will the players buy that?

Roger Goodell’s National Anthem Letter to NFL Teams—Annotated

3. There is no question that the players can’t simply take some money deal from the owners to do social justice work in exchange for agreeing to all stand for the anthem, because they’d risk being labeled as sellouts to the protest cause. This will be the tricky part, navigating the endgame. The NFL has to find some way for the players to win.

4. The endgame? My gut feeling is the league will start by offering to devote a week or weeks—the way the NFL does with cancer causes (“Crucial Catch”) or the military (“Salute to Service”)—to fund and partner with players to highlight and sponsor work on civil rights causes in NFL communities. That could be promoting better police-community relations, or working on reduced sentencing and work-release employment programs. It is thought that the players have been pressing the league to spend multiple weeks on social work and civil rights projects this season, and the success or failure of this partnership will probably be decided by whether players feel the league is digging deep enough to make real change in communities.

I have spoken to a couple of players in recent weeks, since this controversy started, who are skeptical of the NFL’s efforts. One said the NFL’s history of dehumanizing players and forcing them to do what owners want (the way Dallas owner Jerry Jones spoke about not allowing any protesting player to play for his team) reinforces the impression among players that if they don’t get in line, the league will try to steamroll them. That, clearly, is an impression the NFL will have to fight—that they’re just playing nice now to get the players to do what they want.

Another player, Baldwin, sounded introspective on Tuesday after the Goodell memo leaked. He wanted some time to consider his thoughts, then said he felt the NFL and its players shouldn’t continue the fight that President Donald Trump started almost three weeks ago.

“As an NFL community,” Baldwin said, “I believe it’s important that we do not directly engage in the divisive rhetoric that is clearly being aimed at the NFL. It’s also important that we understand that the original intent and motivation of the players’ peaceful protest was to bring awareness to social issues that we see in our country. Although I know the divisive rhetoric is accomplishing its goal in our society, I do believe this is a unique opportunity for the NFL to galvanize our efforts collectively while re-humanizing the players and engaging in the true issues. I hope we can be a model for our society.”

The Morning Huddle: Roger Goodell Wants to Unify the NFL—Good Luck With That

Baldwin is one of the players the NFL wants to be part of the bridge building, and he seems amenable to try to be a part of a solution. “I’m a man of faith,” he said from his home in Seattle. “I’ve always tried to lend myself to an optimistic view. I believe we can find a way to make a lot of lives better.

“This has never been about disrespecting the flag. This has always been about trying to better society, and we hope we can work with the NFL to help do that. I think it’s up to us to speak up for those who don’t have voices to speak. Working to help those who need help, working to try to make society better, is both patriotic and honorable.”

Recently, I asked Baldwin about his passion for this issue—about not just being an athlete who only plays and ignores the evening news. He sounded surprised at the question.

“How can you not have a vested interest in the future of our society?” Baldwin said. “I understand we all have our issues. We have issues in our locker room. We have issues in our society. But even though we have issues on our team, we come every week unified. We’re a team. We work toward a collective goal. We put aside our egos for the greater good. That’s what I want us to do in our communities now.”

In the next week, Goodell’s challenge will be to make players believe the league and the owners share Baldwin’s attitude, or at least will contribute significantly to their causes. It’s not going to be easy.

Now for your email:


I enjoy reading your articles on MMQB. My comments about our VP walking out after the National Anthem was played are:

- Yes he knew they 49ers would kneel;
- Yes he knew his walking out would make news;
- Yes, like the NFL players, he took advantage of the opportunity to showcase his protest of the protesters;
- The media’s focus on his walkout was their choice. The media could have, and probably should have, ignored him and focused on Peyton Manning’s jersey retirement.
- Our VP’s behavior clearly indicated the serious issue of kneeling during the national anthem is not going away quietly; and,
- The article mentioned the VP should have shown respect for Manning’s jersey retirement by not walking out. Why? What is more important, showing respect for a retired football jersey or respect for our country and its flag? So you know my stance in all of this, I have no issue with the players’ protesting in the way they see fit. Neither do I have any issue with those that oppose the players’ manner of protesting. This is what makes our nation the greatest country to have ever existed. — Patrick Oates

Interesting points, Patrick. My question for you: Do you seriously think if the Vice President of the United States attends a football game, with lots of attention surrounding his visit, to pay tribute to the greatest player in Indianapolis Colts’ history, and walks out of the event before the halftime tribute is paid to Peyton Manning, because of the national anthem protests … that the nation’s press should ignore it? Glad you’re not my editor, or the editor of any publication that reports the news.


I don’t understand. You complain that VP Mike Pence upstaged the Peyton Manning ceremony and as a result the Indianapolis Star website had five headlines talking about Pence leaving. If you were really concerned about Manning not getting his appropriate recognition, why didn’t your article simply talk about Manning and the ceremony that celebrated him? Instead you spent paragraphs talking about the entourage that accompanies any American VP and other unnecessary details. You gave much more attention to Pence than to Peyton. Why is that? Are you just as partisan and political as Pence? Why can’t ESPN and SI writers stick to sports, instead of politics? — David, California

Three points, David:

1) I wrote 950 words on Manning’s Saturday statue unveiling. Gave him quite a bit of his due. Was there another national columnist who wrote about Manning’s statue unveiling? Did another national columnist or media person cover the event? Not that I saw.

2) Pence stole the attention from Manning’s day on Sunday. When the Vice President walks out in protest at a football game, it’s mega news, and it’s going to overshadow everything else.

3) Pence is the one who chose to mix politics and sports at the highest level of the political and media food chain.

Clearly this will never happen, because I’m relatively inconsequential on the national scene, but I hope one day if I retire that someone I counted as a friend doesn’t exploit my retirement for his own personal or business gain. That is precisely what Pence did to Manning.

Last point on all of this: A prominent NFL executive wrote me a text Sunday night. The text said, in part, that this exec was appalled at the Vice President using Manning’s ceremony for political reasons. This exec (I know, because we have discussed politics before) was a Trump voter.

Adrian Peterson Off To the Arizona Cardinals


Must be a Packers jinx. Why haven’t my ’Boys learned the lesson not to leave time on the clock as it will come back and bite them, which did happen. The Cowboys had that game won aside for the stupid penalties. It was an amazing game on both sides. — Sylvia

I feel strongly that the Cowboys messed up on the offensive play calls late. With 1:24 left in the fourth quarter, trailing by four points, Dallas had second-and-2 at the Green Bay 11-yard line. They chose to throw into the end zone. It was incomplete. Just not a smart call, because even if they score on the play, the Packers will have about 1:18 left, with one timeout, and Aaron Rodgers will simply need to drive 45 yards after the kickoff to tie the game with a field goal. The play there should have been to run Ezekiel Elliott up the gut and bleed the clock … or force the Packers to use their last timeout. Then, if Dallas didn’t covert on the second-down run by Elliott, Dak Prescott would have two more plays to convert for a first down, and to bleed the clock. As important as scoring there, in my opinion, was taking significant time off the clock so that Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t have enough time to win it. And after Prescott scored with a run on third down, Green Bay took over at its 25-yard line, down 31-28, with 1:13 and one timeout left. Who didn’t think Rodgers was going to drive down for at least a field goal? So I fault Dallas’s clock management in a big, big way.


When I read your Beernerdness section of The MMQB this week, I answered your question about drinking too much as a YES. Some weeks I was wondering how you are able to write the great columns since you describe having quite a few different beers. Since you are going a month without beer, maybe you could spend one week talking about the variety of non-alcoholic beers that are on the market. You could even do your own taste testing and still complete your October challenge. It would be a great shout out to all of us who love beer but don’t drink alcohol. — Chazz Steiner

Thanks a lot, Chazz. That is a great idea. I will try a couple of them and get back to you with my reviews. In the meantime, I am going to give the Beernerdness section to fans/readers the next three Mondays.


When the NFL calculates their data on viewers, do they include the counts of how many folks are watching RedZone? Personally, as a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan in an Eagles market, I rarely watch live game broadcasts anymore. The local games generally don’t interest me, and, if I watch RedZone, I get to watch snippets of the Dolphins games, often times live. Plus, the very draw of RedZone is that you get to see all of the scoring and interesting plays from around the league. Watching a whole game seems slow enough, but it gets slower when it’s a game you are not emotionally invested in! — Diane, Doylestown, Pa.

Diane, excellent point. In fact, the RedZone does nip away at the ratings. I’ve been told about 900,000 or so viewers tune to RedZone for some or all of their Sunday viewing … but that clearly does not apply to the Monday night, Thursday night or Sunday night games, since those obviously have no competition from other games. The FOX and CBS Sunday day games would be affected, though.


As a Charlotte resident and aviation enthusiast, I have to take (slight) umbrage with your comment re: Indy being the only sports city that you can get to your gate in 29 minutes. The car ride from the Westin in Uptown Charlotte to Departures Road at the Charlotte airport in 15 minutes … I think it’s easy to get through pre-check and to your gate in the remaining 14 minutes. Just saying. — Matt DuBose

My experience is that, from the time I leave my hotel room to the time I am at my gate at the airport, that Indianapolis is the fastest experience of any airport serving an NFL city. But I have done that Charlotte run the way you suggest, and I have never timed it. Where I think you’d spend a few extra minutes is after getting through security … those four wings can contain some time-consuming walks. But I will hand it to you—it would be close.


In regards to your call on more NFL teams to erect statues honoring their greatest players, you suggested that Denver should erect a statue of John Elway. While I agree that would be appropriate (probably even more so after his executive days are over), I’m sure Elway would agree that Denver already has a statue honoring their most influential person over the past 30-plus years: Pat Bowlen. — Scott, Tucson

You could be right, Scott. But my feeling is I’ve never seen a franchise where the owner is more beloved than the best quarterback in franchise history.


I know Peter King was watching Dallas/Green Bay, but I was surprised he didn’t comment on Earl Thomas’s play against the Rams. I guess I’m a homer, but it was one of the great defensive plays I’ve seen (and I grew up in Pittsburgh) by a free safety that plays on the level of Troy and Ed. — Howard Coleman

I owe the Seahawks one after last weekend. I was so swamped that I didn’t have the time to invest in a game that certainly deserved my attention.


With the Jaguars suddenly relevant and so many teams with older QBs going nowhere, what do you think about the potential for a trade? Philip Rivers to the Jags? Eli Manning? Carson Palmer? I’d include Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger, but neither the Saints nor the Steelers are probably ready to throw in the towel on 2017 yet. I know a mid-season trade, especially for a QB, would prove a steep (maybe impossible) learning curve. But Rivers could still be viable for the next 2-3 years. I think it could make a lot of sense. The Jags get a QB who isn’t a liability (hopefully) and they can still draft someone in the next year or two to groom behind him. — Evan, Milwaukee

I love the way you think, Evan. I hope the Jags make calls on Rivers and Manning before the Oct. 31 trade deadline. They could be a quarterback away from winning a game in January. Maybe two.

Question? Comment? Story idea? Let us know at