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Volume 24 No. 117

Franchises

The Cowboys "found a way to show solidarity without disparaging the national anthem" last night in their own form of demonstration to "publicly oppose" President Trump's criticism of NFL protests, according to a front-page piece by Brandon George of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Sources said that the Cowboys "met several times over the last three days ... to carefully consider their options." Plans were "still being finalized up until a few hours before kickoff." Cowboys players, coaches and execs "came onto the field before the national anthem and stood arm-in-arm before taking a knee." Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones, members of his family and coach Jason Garrett "were among those on the field." The Cowboys then "went to the sideline as the U.S. flag stretched across the field" and locked arms for the anthem. Fans at Univ. of Phoenix Stadium booed when the team took a knee. Garrett said, "The objectives as much as anything else was to some how, some way to demonstrate unity and equality and do so without anyway involving the American Flag and the national anthem. It took a lot of conversation of how to do that." Before Monday, no Cowboys player had "publicly protested during the national anthem," as Jones and Garrett "consistently made it clear over the last year they believed everyone should stand." Sources said that the Cowboys "met at least three times to plan how they'd respond to Trump's comments." The Jones family was also "involved with the plans" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 9/26). In Ft. Worth, Clarence Hill Jr. in a front-page piece notes the final plan "didn't come together until about an hour before the game." Jones "talked to the Cardinals ownership to let them know what the Cowboys planned to do and to discuss logistics" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 9/26).

CARDINALS ALSO MAKE A STATEMENT: The AP's John Marshall noted the Cardinals also had their own "symbol of unity," as players gathered "along the goal line arm-in-arm during the national anthem." They were joined by team President Michael Bidwill, his family and GM Steve Keim (AP, 9/25). ESPN's Lisa Salters reported Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson on Saturday went to coach Bruce Arians and “asked if the players could do something in response” to Trump's comments. That "started a series of conversations" with the Cowboys, and Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald reached out to Cowboys TE Jason Witten "to see if the two teams could join together in a show of unity." Conversations between the teams "continued throughout the day ... but ultimately the decision was made that there would be no joint team response" ("MNF," ESPN, 9/25). Arians after the game said that the decision to "lock arms before the anthem was a decision made by the players." Arians: "We had one meeting about it and it was their decision." He added that he was "moving forward from the demonstrations." Arians: "That's all over with. I coach football. I'm not a politician" (ESPN.com, 9/25).

Players returned to the sideline after kneeling and stood with locked arms for the anthem
JONES LET LEAGUE IN ON PLANS: Jones said the team alerted the NFL "of what we were going to be doing." Jones: "We planned and it was executed according to plan that we would go out, kneel and basically stand for and make the statement regarding the need for unity and the need for equality. We immediately turned around, stood up, walked over to the sideline and that big American flag came down that field and we stood and all stood toe out on the field and recognized and respected the American flag and the national anthem." Garrett said it took the team "up until an hour or so prior to the game to say, 'OK, this is what the plan is.'" Garrett: "We want everybody together. We don't want to be offensive to anyone" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 9/26). USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell writes the team "seemingly had something for everybody before a national TV audience, playing to both sides of the fence." Jones said, "It was easy to see that the message about unity and equality was being pushed aside by the controversy." Cowboys WR Brice Butler said, "Initially, we had a certain plan, and that was what we were going to roll with. And then Jerry came and spoke to us before the game. It was, ‘Just trust me on this. Let’s do this together. Let’s do 15, 20 seconds of kneeling.’ That was Jerry’s plan. I actually liked it, because everybody did it. So it wasn’t like, ‘You didn’t do it, so you’re a sellout,’ or, ‘He did it'" (USA TODAY, 9/26). Cowboys WR Dez Bryant said, "Sports show the perfect example of unity. It's not just black NFL players, it's different races. I feel like that was a clear shot at Trump, sitting on that knee like that because you just can't do that." He said of Jones joining the demonstration, "It means everything that he did that. Mr. Jones is the best guy. Goes to show you who he is" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 9/26).

CAN'T PLEASE EVERYONE: YAHOO SPORTS' Charles Robinson wrote the Cowboys' "nuanced attempt to honor won’t please everyone." Some will say you "can’t kneel before the anthem and stand for the anthem." But the Cowboys "chose to try and find the tricky space that everyone could live with." In doing so, they "sent a message to those who would still find weakness or flaw in the attempt." Robinson: "Saying something along the lines of, 'We’ve chosen common ground. If you don’t like that, be damned'" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/25). However, in Ft. Worth, Mac Engel writes, "America's Team has spoken, and it went PC." What the Cowboys delivered was a "non-protest, protest designed to placate fans who want their favorite heroes to be active in social issues without offending those ticket-paying customers, and corporate sponsors, who insist they must honor Lee Greenwood and 'respect the flag.'" The Cowboys’ "dip into the baby pool of activism on Monday night is about as much motion and noise as they will ever produce in this area." The only reason they did it was "because of the players" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 9/26).

The Panthers' Jerry Richardson yesterday became the 31st NFL owner or team to "release a statement" in the wake of President Trump's comments this weekend, though he did not refer to Trump "by name or mention the demonstrations across the league," according to Jourdan Rodrigue of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. The statement read in part, "We are proud of the men we have on this football team. Our players have been active and impactful participants in making our community stronger. ... Politicizing the game is damaging and takes the focus off the greatness of the game itself and those who played it.” Richardson did "not specify to whom the final part of that statement was directed." Rodrigue notes the statement followed a "wave of peaceful demonstrations during the national anthem, during which some players across the league linked arms, knelt or sat." Some owners "linked arms with their players, and some teams remained in the locker room during the anthem" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/26). In Charlotte, Scott Fowler writes Richardson "appears to be very much a member of the #StickToSports crowd" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/26).

TAKING A CLOSER LOOK: Saints RB Mark Ingram was among the team's players who sat on the bench during the national anthem prior to Sunday's game against the Panthers, and he said that fans at Bank of America Stadium "were not receptive" to the gesture. Ingram: "They were saying, 'Stand up, losers' and all of that" (AL.com, 9/25). SI.com's Jonathan Jones wrote it could be argued there was "no game more cloaked in Americana Sunday" than Saints-Panthers. Two American flags "were on the field during the national anthem." Early in the first quarter, military members sitting in Section 105’s Row of Honor were "acknowledged by the crowd as Lee Greenwood’s 'God Bless the USA' played." Shortly at the start of the second half, James Brown’s “Living In America” played as nine military members from Langley Air Force Base who participated in the pregame flyover "were recognized" (SI.com, 9/25).

Louisiana state Rep. Kenny Havard called for the state government to pull "funding, tax breaks and other support" from the Saints after several players protested during the national anthem Sunday, according to Julia O'Donoghue of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. Havard wrote in a statement, "Disrespecting our national anthem and flag in the name of social injustice is the highest form of hypocrisy." He added, "I believe in the right to protest, but not at a taxpayer-subsidized sporting event. Do it on your own time. There are plenty of disabled children, elderly and veterans in this state that would appreciate the money." Louisiana state Rep. Valarie Hodges "has also requested the Saints' state benefits be reviewed by the Legislature's Senate and House budget committees as a result of the players' protest." O'Donoghue notes about $165M of the Saints' $1.5B value "can be attributed to public funding, tax breaks and incentives" given to Saints Owner Tom Benson each year. Ten players protested by sitting, and four others "stood in solidarity" near them, though they "didn't sit down themselves." The argument over "public subsidies for the team and Benson" is not a new one. A handful of legislators, "particularly those from north Louisiana who are farther from the Saints reach, have raised questions over the state's support of the team for several years" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 9/26).

The Broncos’ "famously loyal fan base showed signs of splintering along political lines" yesterday as fans "stampeded social media and the Broncos’ phone lines to register disgust with 32 players’ decision to take a knee" during the national anthem before Sunday’s game against the Bills, according to John Wenzel of the DENVER POST. Talk of boycotts yesterday "was common on Facebook and Twitter ... with some fans asserting the best way to send a message to the Broncos’ head office is by hurting their bottom line." But Broncos officials said that out of 22,000 season-ticket holders "representing a little more than 70,000 seats, none have asked for a refund" (DENVER POST, 9/26). Meanwhile, Broncos coach Vance Joseph said that he "believes players should stand for the anthem and find a time other than the national anthem to voice their opinion." Joseph: "It should be a separate issue. It should not be a part of what we’re doing on Sundays. ... Politics and sports don’t mix, in my opinion. I’m a football coach. They’re football players. Our job is to win football games" (GAZETTE.com, 9/25). 

JAGS FANS PUSH BACK: In Jacksonville, Soergel & Dixon in a front-page piece wonder if a "significant chunk" of the team’s fan base is "really going to ditch the Jags because of the team’s silent protest" in London on Sunday. Soergel & Dixon: "Will the fuss subside or will it fester or grow?" Jacksonville-based WJXL-FM host Ryan Green said, "You can tell very quickly when you open the phone lines the level of anger about this. We tried to keep it on the game, but it was very apparent though that people wanted to talk about the anthem.” Green added that calls after the game "ran about half and half on the issue." Those "upset about the anthem protests, which were seen across the NFL, were by far the more angry group." Many Jaguars fans "feel angry and dismayed by the protests" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 9/26).

TURMOIL IN BALTIMORE? In Baltimore, Jean Marbella in a front-page piece notes there are Ravens fans who "say they want to sell their tickets to future games in response to Sunday’s NFL-wide protest." Other fans "went further, burning their teams’ jerseys, even as other fans happily offered to take any tickets or memorabilia off their hands." Sports marketing experts said that it is "unclear if the current turmoil will prove fleeting or have a lasting impact -- on game attendance, TV viewership and the NFL brand." Ravens Senior VP/Public & Community Relations Kevin Byrne: "We are hearing a variety of opinions -- some showing disappointment with the players who demonstrated and others showing support. Clearly there are more expressing displeasure with what some of the players did. We've had calls from fans who say they won't support us anymore" (Baltimore SUN, 9/26).

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and DE Cam Heyward said that they "regretted how things played out" with their demonstration Sunday, and that the team "would be on the sidelines" for the anthem moving forward, according to a front-page piece by Ray Fittipaldo of the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE. That comes as Steelers OT Alejandro Villanueva apologized for being the lone player present for the anthem, saying that his actions "made his teammates look bad." After a "hastily called players-only meeting Saturday night, the plan was for the team to remain in the tunnel during the anthem." However, Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, approached Roethlisberger before the game and "asked if they could find some middle ground." He "wanted to be somewhere close to the field where he could see the flag and stand for the anthem." Roethlisberger and Heyward "agreed to the plan and wanted to stand" by Villanueva in a show of support. But in the "chaos after pregame festivities," some Bears personnel prevented Roethlisberger and Heyward from joining Villanueva "before the anthem started because they clogged the path in the tunnel." Villanueva said, "This plan sort of morphed to accommodate this tough moral dilemma I had on my hands. I stopped as soon as I saw the flag. That, to me, was enough. When I turned around to signal everyone else that’s when they were unable to exit. The decision was, do you walk out of the national anthem and join your teammates? I knew that would look bad." Villanueva "took ownership for going against the plan the team devised." Meanwhile, Roethlisberger last night "posted a statement on his personal website, saying he had a hard time sleeping Sunday night because of what happened before the game Sunday." It read in part, "Moving forward, we will be on the field. What we do when we’re out there will be determined." Villanueva said that he "would be fine with it" if some players decide to sit during the anthem (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/26). 

PLAN GONE WRONG: Villanueva called the anthem ordeal "out of control" because of the way it portrayed him as an outcast and the team as not supporting the anthem. Villanueva said that he "understands why teammates would be frustrated with him" (ESPN.com, 9/25). Villanueva: “Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself, I feel embarrassed. We butchered our plan" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/26). But in Pittsburgh, Sean Gentille writes Villanueva "came as close as anybody can to giving a set of answers that combined intellectual honesty and sensitivity to multiple sides." Unity is a "tough sell." Villanueva "took his best shot, and it was pretty good" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/26). Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto: "The team handled it great. It was a no-win situation. They chose to do it in a very Pittsburgh fashion. They met privately. They discussed it as a team. They worked together as one team. ... Given the situation where there was really no win, and fully understanding that if one side wins, all sides lose -- the Steelers handled it as well as anyone on Sunday" (POST-GAZETTE.com, 9/25).

CENTER OF ATTENTION: In N.Y., Robertson & Lyons write if the ground under the NFL "shook from the national debate over race, patriotism, protest and the president, Pittsburgh might have in some ways felt like the epicenter." While the Steelers "stood inside the tunnel instead of standing on the sideline," the Penguins over the weekend confirmed that they would "accept an invitation to visit the White House" to celebrate their Stanley Cup win. Many people in Pittsburgh, both supporters and critics of Trump, "saw the Penguins’ announcement as an innocuous if rather oddly-timed statement about keeping a tradition of White House visits." Penguins President & CEO David Morehouse "worked in the Clinton administration," and Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle is a "well-known Clinton donor" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/26). Also in N.Y., Salena Zito writes under the header, "NFL Anthem Protests Leave Pittsburgh Fans Conflicted About Game They Love" (N.Y. POST, 9/26). Former Penguins player Georges Laraque said, "I know hockey’s more conservative than other sports, but this time it’s just wrong. I’m surprised the NHL didn’t make a stand. To me, it’s an embarrassment that they’re going. ... This is the last place the Stanley Cup should be" (CP, 9/25).

The Seahawks and Titans did not take the field for the national anthem on Sunday before their game at Nissan Stadium, and Seahawks QB Russell Wilson "believed that locking arms and standing for the anthem, as the team had done last season, was not enough," according to Robert Klemko of THE MMQB. Seahawks DE Michael Bennett said of Wilson, "He's actually one of the main people who wanted to do something." Seahawks CB Richard Sherman said, "He had an epiphany of sorts when he saw the Trump comments. Something changed in his mind. He was ready to kneel, sit, whatever needed to be done. He was ready to go there for his teammates and for the greater good, and you’re not seeing that out of the premier quarterbacks in this league." Klemko noted the Seahawks' locker room was "far from united on the issue" prior to the game. Players "debated for more than an hour on Saturday morning after the walkthrough, and then again with coaches participating at the end of an extended team meeting Saturday night." Sherman said that players were "ultimately seeking a unified response, and some dissenters from the majority opinion conceded that abstaining from the anthem altogether would shield them from answering questions about why they stood while others knelt or sat." A "quorum of leaders ... agreed the best response was to skip the anthem and remain in the locker room." They "told the team of their decision 30 minutes before gametime." Klemko noted Wilson’s "vocal involvement is a significant development in a league where quarterbacks -- the most visible players on any team -- have stayed mum on the debate" (SI.com, 9/25). CBSSPORTS.com's Will Brinson wrote Wilson is a "surprising player to lead such a protest." He has "shown that he cares very much about society as a whole," but he is "buttoned up a bit." Wilson "doesn't always push the boundaries and has typically stayed between the mustard and the mayonnaise when it comes to his approach to public relations" (CBSSPORTS.com, 9/25).

DID THEY OR DIDN'T THEY?
Titans coach Mike Mularkey said that it was his "understanding that all of his players agreed to remain in the locker room during the national anthem" before the Seahawks game. In Nashville, Cardenas & Wolf report TMZ published comments from country music singer Jessie James Decker, the wife of Titans WR Eric Decker, who said a "decision was made for him without him knowing." Mularkey "refused to answer additional questions about how the decision was made or whether the team will continue to remain in the locker room during the national anthem" before Sunday's game against the Texans (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 9/26).

TALK IT OUT: The Dolphins held a team meeting prior to their loss to the Jets, and S Michael Thomas said, "It was totally the opposite of what happened last year. We brought it up to the team and black, white -- it didn’t matter. Everybody was like, ‘Hey, let’s figure out a way to do something where we’re all together.’" He added, "It was great to have everybody doing something together as a team to just join the conversation. You can no longer stay silent. You can no longer be neutral, either.” More Thomas: "It is huge for us to have our team behind us. More people joining the conversation this year is huge. Even players who don’t want to protest, at least this year they’re saying, ‘I stand behind my brother. Because the cause that he’s fighting for means a lot to him, I support him.’ That’s huge" (PALM BEACH POST, 9/26).

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority Exec Dir Scott McKibben said the Raiders “might likely” play in Oakland through the '20 season as they wait for their $1.8B Las Vegas stadium to be built, according to Kimberly Veklerov of the S.F. CHRONICLE. McKibben added that the team "may need to stay in Oakland longer than anticipated." McKibben: "We are talking about a one-year extension and there’s a real likelihood we could be talking about two years." Veklerov notes the team’s current contract with the authority runs through the '18 season. McKibben said that while there is "no pressure to hammer out a lease extension, 'it’d be to everyone’s benefit' to get it done in the coming months as soon as the Raiders have a better sense of their timetable for construction in Las Vegas." Negotiations for an extension in Oakland will "happen between McKibben and the team’s owners and managers, and any agreement must be approved" by the Oakland City Council, Alameda County Board of Supervisors and Coliseum Authority BOD (S.F. CHRONICLE, 9/26). CBSSPORTS.com's Jason La Canfora noted there are "concerns that stadium construction will not be able to start -- and finish -- on time in Las Vegas, and the Raiders are also still sorting out issues with UNLV" (CBSSPORTS.com, 9/24).

The Patriots "found themselves in hot water" on Sunday after fans "complained that they were asked to pay $4.50 for tap water at Gillette Stadium," according to Sophia Eppolito of the BOSTON GLOBE. Workers at Gillette Stadium had "prepared for [a] hot September day -- temperatures hit 86 degrees in Foxborough -- by doubling their inventory of water bottles." However, the demand "far exceeded what they were able to hold in their concession stands and was almost four times the inventory they would have had for an average game." As different concession stands "ran out of water bottles throughout the course of the day, fans asked for cups of tap water instead." Concessionaires resorted to "selling tap water in soda cups for $4.50." Patriots VP/Media Relations Stacey James said, "That should not have happened. It is the first time that I have ever heard that complaint here. We are looking into the matter to ensure that it doesn’t happen again" (BOSTONGLOBE.com, 9/25).

TAKING OFF: In Boston, Catherine Carlock noted a new addition in the uppermost levels of Gillette Stadium was the "topic of conversation for nearly [a] third of the stadium's attendees." The Patriots and JetBlue Airways partnered to "create four JetBlue Landings at the 300 level of the stadium in Foxborough." The four spaces "feature large covered open spaces, wind blockage structures, and upgraded food and beverage offerings with a farm-to-table concept and local craft beers." Patriots COO Jim Nolan said that JetBlue Landings were a "mutual vision between the Patriots and JetBlue" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 9/24).

Flames President & CEO Ken King said that the team will "receive a cheque from the NHL this year under revenue-sharing agreements," according to Annalise Klingbeil of the CALGARY HERALD. King, speaking at a Calgary Chamber of Commerce event, said that the Flames have "crossed the line after previously performing as a top 10 revenue-contributing team." King: "We wrote the cheques in the last few years to help the other teams. We are now receivers. We’ll get a cheque this year. Isn’t that ridiculous, in this beautiful market? It shows you where this is heading and it’s in the wrong direction." He added, "I can say, sadly, that we have crossed one of the remedies off the list, and that is the new facility. I honestly do not know where that part of the story is going to end." King acknowledged the arena "saga but refused to answer any questions" about the venue. King said, "We are no longer pursuing a new arena in Calgary with the City of Calgary. And anyone who mocks that statement, suggesting its posturing or part of the negotiation, doesn’t know us very well" (CALGARY HERALD, 9/26). The GLOBE & MAIL's Tait & Maki noted King's appearance had been "scheduled for months, and the topic, 'The future of the Flames: Business and hockey,' was especially alluring." The arena is an "election issue --Calgarians go to the polls on Oct. 16 -- although King insists his group is apolitical" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/25).