NFL, players leave door open on kneeling during national anthem

In a meeting between NFL players and owners Tuesday in New York, the topic of a rule change regarding behavior during the national anthem was reportedly never discussed, despite growing tension over the matter across the league and the nation.

NFL owners and executives met with members of the NFL Players Association for their annual fall meeting, where the topic of the players protesting during “The Star Spangled Banner” was expected to come up. But a rule change over the matter never did, according to reporters in the room.

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The current NFL guidelines on the matter say the league believes the players should stand during the anthem with their hands over their hearts.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the meeting was "very productive and very important" during a news conference Tuesday night and described the players as "men of great character" who felt strongly about the issues.

"They have a very deep understanding and tremendous knowledge of the issues that are going on in all of our communities," Goodell said. "And their commitment to addressing these issues is really admirable and something that I think our owners looked at as saying, 'We want to help support you. Those are issues that affect us. They're our issues also. We'd like to do it together.'"

The issue of the protesting during the anthem originated last season when then-San Francisco 49er's Quarterback Colin Kaepernick first sat, then knelt during the national anthem, protesting police brutality against minorities. 

A lawyer for Kaepernick, who is currently not signed with a team and recently filed a grievance against the league alleging owners colluded against him, said Monday that the former player was not invited to the NFL meeting despite players wanting him there. But the lawyer said Kaepernick "is open to future participation on these important discussions." 

Players at the meeting, which focused on identifying the issues and figuring out how to better use the NFL's platform for good, said they had “good dialogue” with the owners and were happy with the results.

Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles said the meeting went “really well” and the players were able to speak to the owners about issues of injustice and how the league can start to create change.

“As players we’ll continue to do the work in our communities. We feel that’s the most American thing to do is to use your platform and influence,” Jenkins told reporters. “And with the stage that we have as NFL players and as the league in general we feel a real responsibility to our country, to our communities. So we’re working through ways to really have long lasting, real change.”

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He also said that change doesn’t happen quickly, or over the course of a two-hour meeting, but that the players and the league have “mutual interests” and they plan to continue talking about the issues their communities are facing.

“The issues that we’re fighting against … they’ve been here longer than us and we don’t expect them to change overnight but we’ll continue to work in collaboration and have conversations to see if we can make some change,” he said.

While the possibility of a new rule wasn’t discussed, Jenkins said they did talk about the state of the league, the anthem protests and how to “amplify players’ voices” on the issues.

But as far as future protests go, Jenkins said it’ll be up to each individual player to decide if they’ll take a knee during the national anthem.

Following the meeting, the NFL and NFLPA released a joint statement, highlighting their goals to "utilize our platform to promote equality and effectuate positive change." They also said that "everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military."