NFL chiefs and players leaders held “constructive” talks over the league’s anthem policy on Friday as the divisive issue showed no sign of being settled with the new season just weeks away.
With all 32 teams back in training for the 2018 season, the issue of player protests is back in the headlines after the NFL’s failed attempt to forge a common policy over the issue.
NFL owners in May approved a new policy which made it mandatory for all players on the field to stand during the pre-match ritual of the US national anthem.
Players would be given the option of remaining in the locker room during renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” but would be fined if they did not stand while on the field.
However the new policy was shelved last week as the NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to reopen dialogue to reach agreement on a new approach.
A joint NFL-NFLPA statement on Friday said talks had taken place and would continue.
“The NFL and NFLPA concluded a constructive meeting regarding the anthem policy and the very serious social justice issues that have been the basis of some players’ protests,” the statement said.
“We are encouraged by the discussions and plan to continue our conversations.”
The statement came at the end of a week in which Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones appeared to suggest that his players would be forced to stand for the anthem, and would not be allowed to remain in the locker room.
“Obviously I wouldn’t dare speak for any of the other owners, but as far as the Dallas Cowboys are concerned, you know where I stand and our team knows where I stand on the issue,” Jones said.
“Our policy is that you stand for the anthem, toe on the line.”
Cowboys owner a ‘bully’
Jones’ hardline approach won approval from US President Donald Trump, who had triggered mass player protests last September after referring to players who took a knee during the anthem as “sons of bitches” who should be fired.
Trump returned to the subject last Friday saying players who did not stand for the anthem should be suspended without pay.
The US leader was delighted by Cowboys owner Jones’ stance.
“Way to go Jerry. This is what the league should do!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
However Jones came under fire from Philadelphia Eagles star Malcolm Jenkins.
Jenkins, an outspoken voice on social issues, said Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie had taken a supportive stance toward his players.
“Jeffrey’s been very supportive of us from the beginning,” Jenkins said. “I don’t see Jeffrey as a bully like Jerry Jones is. Lucky for me, I don’t play for the Cowboys, nor would I want to.
“It’s unfortunate that you have owners like him that use his position to intimidate and intentionally thwart even the idea of his players thinking individually or having a voice about issue that effect their communities daily. It’s unfortunate.”
Jenkins said the NFL’s attempt to solve the anthem issue arose out of a desire to “appease” Trump, who has sought to frame the protests as unpatriotic and disrespectful to the military.
“(The owners are) afraid of our president I think they’re afraid of half of our fan base so they try to appease both sides and they end up not satisfying anybody,” Jenkins said.
“They know more than anybody that it’s not about the flag, it’s not about the anthem. They’ve been right along with us. They met with police along with us, we invited them to our events, they’ve seen our meetings with community activists. They know it has nothing to do with the military.”