NFL players use time with owners in New York meetings to build trust

By Albert Breer
October 19, 2017
The anthem protest issue could be doing more to bring owners and players together, rather than dividing them.
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The headline coming out of this week’s meetings was that the NFL would not consider changes to its policy on the anthem, and that the current rules language—that players should stand for the anthem—will remain in place. But the further-reaching result of the players’ meeting with owners and NFL execs might be that the group found its voice and forum in the room, and is now in position to continue to be heard.

Several players, in fact, communicated to the owners how much they enjoyed the conversation and that they wanted more players to have an open line of communication to the league’s highest levels. And I think what we learned is: mutual interest can be a powerful agent for change.

It’s been almost four weeks now since President Trump went after the players at a rally in Alabama, and backed not just the players or the owners or the coaches, but everyone into a corner. All those guys have rallied out of it together, and that’s led to what Roger Goodell called “unprecedented dialogue” between owners and players.

Remember, just a month ago, these groups couldn’t agree on which direction the sun rises, with trust fractured through the 2011 lockout, Bountygate, Deflategate, and a cadre of other botched disciplinary proceedings. For now, at least, it looks like they’ll keep working together, with the owners set to grant the players the access to continue these discussions directly with their highest-ranking bosses.

Here’s how three owners who were at Tuesday’s meeting saw it:

• Arthur Blank, Falcons: “They view the owners as individuals that have the deepest roots, the deepest foundation. Coaches, sadly, come and go. General managers, sadly, come and go. Even players come and go. But they understand the owner is a person with resources, and not just financial resources, but with relationships and contacts that can help on these social issues, with knowledge and input and involvement. And that’s really what they’re asking for. Owners understand where they’re coming from. Be good listeners, be good responders, and be involved on an ongoing basis. And I think that’s not unreasonable. That’s more than reasonable.”

• Shad Khan, Jaguars: “There’s always benefit to having that line of communication open. There are times—like, for example, when the union contract comes up—when lines have to be crossed and it can be counterproductive. But as a rule, day in and day out, they are a part of the club, they’re a key asset, and the more you can communicate, the better. … I have a good relationship with the Jaguars players. I normally wouldn’t have a relationship with players on other teams. The big difference now, whatever the head count was at the meeting, that many more players, I now know their viewpoint, and they know us. And that’s good. I think our focus has to be on the players.”

• Jeffrey Lurie, Eagles: “I think it’s great when players get together with owners, whether it’s their own team or a group of owners. The communication’s great, you really learn where everyone is coming from, and you get to understand these are human issues.”

This is all good for now, of course, with the league getting its efforts going on the social causes that are important to players. And with three years and change left on the current collective bargaining agreement, it could be even more meaningful down the line. 

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