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Volume 25 No. 7
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NFL Owners Leave Anthem Rules In Place With Plans To Work With Players On Social Issues

NFL owners left two days of meetings in N.Y. "agreeing to let their players protest, but to work with them on the social issues they are trying to address," according to Ken Belson of the N.Y. TIMES. Owners spoke among themselves for several hours yesterday with no "specific resolution" proposed to "strengthen the league’s rules on the anthem, and only a handful of owners expressed a desire for measures that would penalize players who did not stand." Most owners said that they "wanted every player to stand for the anthem, but recognized that it would be misguided for the league to mandate it." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: "We are not looking to get into politics." He declined to say whether the protests "had affected the league’s bottom line." One owner said that league officials did "not say the anthem protests were at all responsible for some of the declines in ratings" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/19). Goodell said, "Our clubs all see this the same way -- we want our players to stand, we're going to encourage them to stand and we're going to continue to work on these issues in the community. ... The fact is that we have about half a dozen players that are protesting. We hope and continue to work to try to put that at zero -- that's what we'd like to do." He added, "I understand where our fans feel about this issue -- and we feel the same way. About the importance of our flag, about the importance of patriotism. And I believe our players feel that same way" (NFL.com, 10/18). More Goodell: "We know how important this is to our sponsors, our partners, our licensees. It’s important to us, also" (WASHINGTON POST, 10/19). Giants President & CEO John Mara said that there was "no vote regarding a policy change to anthem procedure." Mara: "There was conversation, but the policy is not going to change" (USA TODAY, 10/19).

BREAKING IT DOWN: YAHOO SPORTS' Frank Schwab wrote the number of players protesting Goodell cited "seems low," but it "appeared he wanted to make it a point that it’s not as widespread of an issue as it is being made out to be" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/18). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Andrew Beaton writes the NFL's "strategy for managing the festering controversy" over national anthem protests is to "run out the clock." The league is "betting that the issue will quietly die down on its own" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/19). In Boston, Ben Volin writes the NFL has "chosen to ignore" President Trump and instead "focus on working with players to help their communities" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/19). In Buffalo, Vic Carucci writes having "built what it perceives as goodwill with players, the NFL thinks this is the right time to stand pat on the anthem topic rather than deciding to make standing mandatory" (BUFFALO NEWS, 10/19). NFL.com's Judy Battista wrote the NFL's decision to "support programs big and small to effect social change on the issues that spurred the original protests" was "surprisingly progressive." Owners and the league office have instead "decided to withstand what they hope is a temporary business setback for what they hope is the greater good gained by supporting initiatives that will improve social equality, even as the president continues to berate the league for what he feels is disrespect for the country" (NFL.com, 10/18).

ROGER THAT: In S.F., Scott Ostler writes Goodell "reaffirmed, in a roundabout way, that the NFL has not caved in to Trump’s demands." Even Goodell’s critics -- who "say he’s been too late or too light on issues like domestic violence and player safety -- have to admit he’s walking a thin tightrope here." He "serves the owners, sponsors and fans," but he also "knows it’s hard to play football without football players." Meanwhile, Trump is "getting what he seems to want, massive huzzahs from his base of supporters and a rising anti-player clamor" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 10/19). DEADLINE's Erik Pedersen wrote amid a "number of repeated words and phrases like 'dialogue,' 'understanding' and 'underlying issues,'" Goodell "certainly didn’t clarify much -- though he noted that it’s time 'to make sure we get back to football'" (DEADLINE.com, 10/18). In DC, Cheryl Chumley writes Goodell "held a widely watched news conference to clarify the league’s decision on the no-stand-for-anthem campaign -- but really, only ducked and dodged and convoluted." It was not "exactly the message fans wanted to hear." Chumley: "Apparently, players’ petty protests take precedence over the will of the fans, at least in the eyes of NFL top brass." Goodell and the NFLPA, on the "heels of lengthy discussions earlier this week, missed a golden opportunity to emerge from these chats and heal the division that’s marked and tainted this season from the get-go" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 10/19).

Mara said there was conversation about the prospect of an anthem-related rule change
DEAR JOHN: Mara said that he "didn’t see any reason for a change in policy." Mara: “Most of us believe that attempting to force the players to do something that they don’t want to do is not going to be effective in the long run.” In N.Y., Gary Myers reports Mara seems "willing to ride out the negative hit this has caused on team and league business in exchange for working with the players to make positive social changes and allowing them to continue to kneel." He said, "No question it has an impact, but it’s an important social issue and I think sometimes you have to put the interest of your business behind the interest of issues that are more important than that” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/19). Mara added, "My position has evolved a little bit. I think when (kneeling) first happened, I probably had a little more of a hard-line position on it. But since I’ve spoken to players and heard what they’ve had to say and tried to understand what it is that they’re protesting, I think my position has, to be honest, evolved a little bit" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/18). NFL Network's Ian Rapoport said while the controversy has impacted the bottom line for teams, some owners like Mara and the Falcons' Arthur Blank believe this is "something that is bigger than just the business side ... so they're willing to withstand some losses" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 10/19).

MR. JONES & ME
: In L.A., Sam Farmer writes "although Jones said last week that he would bench any player who refused to stand during the pregame flag ceremony," he "doesn’t seem to be building anything close to a consensus among fellow owners." In this case, Jones "is the outlier" (L.A. TIMES, 10/19). YAHOO SPORTS' Charles Robinson wrote Jones was "silent and evasive" on the league's social activism front. Nothing good can "come for the NFL if Jones repeats himself on the national anthem debate," and the other owners "seem to understand that." Jones "stands now -- on an island, left alone as the only team owner inclined to discipline players for any form of protest during the anthem." Jones also "isn’t moving." He still "believes that players can and should be disciplined for protesting during the anthem." If it happens in his franchise, he is still "capable of following through on a threat that would unravel everything and draw the NFL into a potential legal war" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/18). ESPN's Jim Trotter said owners "always listen” to Jones on financial issues, but there were a "number of owners who were upset" with him threatening to discipline players. Trotter: “He does not speak for all the owners” (“OTL,” ESPN, 10/18).

DROPPING BY
: The BOSTON GLOBE's Volin reports NFL owners were visited by N.Y. Police Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill and Chief of Police Terry Monahan yesterday to "speak about how NFL teams can better connect with local police" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/19). ESPN's Adam Schefter notes the owners believe O'Neill made some "incredibly interesting and insightful comments." O'Neill talked about how they "have changed their police practices in recent times, the way they should be thinking." Schefter: "In speaking to people in that room, they said it was easily the most powerful moment of these two days in meetings and something that will stay with them" ("Mike & Mike," ESPN Radio, 10/19).