The NFL will not force its players to stand for the national anthem. That was the biggest takeaway from Tuesday’s league meeting between players, owners and commissioner Roger Goodell. In fact, such a possibility was not discussed during the morning gathering with players or the afternoon’s owners-only session (and Eric Reid later said he'd continue kneeling). Instead, players spent much of their time with 11 team owners and Goodell explaining the social issues they see in America and what they feel franchises could do to better support their work in those areas.
“We spent today talking about the issues that players have been trying to bring attention to,” Goodell said during a brief press conference. “I think we all agree there’s nothing more important than trying to give back to our communities and make them better. That was the entire focus of today.”
The decision to focus on social issues rather than the anthem protests comes with an understanding that it will not please President Donald Trump, or many of his followers, who have taken an increasingly negative view of the league. “Everybody understands that we're going to get baited, whether it's from the President or whether it's from other detractors,” 49ers co-owner Jed York said. “We need to be above petty attacks from anybody, because racial and socioeconomic inequality has existed in this country for too long. We need to get the focus on that, and we need to make sure that we make progress there.” York also had a message for fans who have turned off the sport because of the protests. “If the message gets distorted, then I understand why there is controversy and I understand why people are upset. But if we can work together, we will get back to football but we will also make our country a better place, and I hope everybody is for both of those things.”
Two other notable comments from the 49ers boss, who has dealt with the anthem issue the longest and who spoke the most at the end of the day Tuesday:
• “Our country is more important than a slight economic impact.… This issue is more important than economics.”
• “Honestly, this is one of the proudest days I’ve ever felt being a part of the National Football League.”
The owners are meeting again Wednesday, and Goodell is expected to hold a longer session with the media afterwards. The league has already shown its new willingness to embrace players’ causes, with Goodell co-signing a letter to Congress in support of a criminal justice reform bill. “That’s the most important partner that we have—our players,” York said. “If we’re not working with our players and we aren’t sincere about that . . . then what are we about?”
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Yes, Martavis Bryant would like to be traded. To the Warriors.