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Anthem Protests Meeting Opens Rare ‘Productive’ Dialogue Between NFL Owners, Players

Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Tuesday gathering in New York was one of the best he’s had in business

 andNEW YORK — It’s beginning to look like there’s a side benefit to the President Donald Trump attack on the NFL over the anthem. Eleven NFL owners and 13 players met inside a conference room on the sixth floor of the NFL office in midtown Manhattan for more than three hours Tuesday morning, and when it was over, one owner said it was the best dialog he’d ever experienced with players.

“I would say the same thing,” Atlanta owner Arthur Blank said Tuesday night, outside the hotel in lower Manhattan where the owners convened for their annual fall meeting. “I told [commissioner] Roger Goodell this, and I said it to all the owners this afternoon—I thought this was one of the most open and productive meetings I’ve been in, maybe ever, in any business I’ve been involved with. And I’m 75 years old. The players we met with today were deeply emotional and knowledgeable about the issues they’re passionate about. The owners listened, and I thought the owners responded with the same kind of passion.”

The owners made it clear on the first day of the two-day meeting that there won’t be an anthem policy set forth by the league. Essentially, the owners know that even though they’d like all players who suit up each week to stand at attention for the anthem, ordering them to do so would result in the same kind of civil disobedience that the Trump speech Sept. 22 in Huntsville, Ala., prompted. One of the players in the meeting Tuesday, 49ers safety Eric Reid, said he would continue to kneel for the anthem. So if the league is trying to show players they want to support their social-justice causes, the worst way would have been to say: We’ll support your causes, but you all have to stand for us to do that. That would have continued the distrust and bad feeling between top levels of the NFL and the NFL Players Association that has plagued the Roger Goodell reign.

Advocacy groups made their presence known outside NFL offices during the owners meeting Tuesday in New York.

Advocacy groups made their presence known outside NFL offices during the owners meeting Tuesday in New York.

What happens going forward is this: The NFL owners have to prove they’re serious in supporting the causes that are important to the players.

Said Blank: “The owners were very clear about the platforms we’re discussing with the players. This is not doing three media events and we’re finished. This is a long-term commitment that we have to make. These issues have to pass from one generation to the next. It’s hard work and it will take time.”

NFL Owners Ready To Move Forward from National Anthem Discussions

I asked two club czars, Blank and San Francisco CEO Jed York: So what happens when President Trump, Tweet-guns blazing, rips the owners for not forcing players to stand?

“We need to be above it,” said York. “We need to be above petty attacks from anybody, because racial and socioeconomic inequality have existed in this country for too long. You’ve got to block out the noise and do your job.”

“You know what I have learned in 75 years?” Blank said. “Control what you can control. Be responsible for what you say and do. In the NFL, our values have to respect the shield. We always have had a partnership with our players and now we have to stand with them on these important issues.”

Eric Reid: ‘I’m Still Going to Kneel for the Anthem’

It’s rare for players to get backing from any sports league on some of their major issues, like working to improve community relations with police, and working to make sentencing policies and parole guidelines less onerous for African-American males. These are not typical issues for players. But these are not typical times. These are passion points for players. As Blank says, the owners are going to have to be serious about helping players with these causes if the players are going to trust that isn’t lip service from the owners.

That will take time. Now we’ll see how the public, and the president, will react to this social consciousness.

Blank said he just finished a book that Martin Luther King wrote not long before he died, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” And he said Tuesday night: “I feel like we in this league right now need a sense of community to grow. This is a great country. We were built on inclusiveness, community, support and understanding. That is the best of us. And that is what we need to do now as a league.”

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