NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to all 32 teams on Tuesday, encouraging them to resolve the issue of player protests during the national anthem so the league can move past the controversy.
Meanwhile, a high-ranking NFL executive said Tuesday that the league’s owners may consider a revision of the guidelines that would make it mandatory for all players to stand during the anthem.
Current league guidelines say players “should” stand during the anthem.
Goodell and the league’s owners will discuss the anthem issue in New York next Tuesday and Wednesday during their regularly scheduled fall meetings. Goodell wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Newsday, that the league has developed a plan that will be reviewed at the meetings.
Goodell wrote that the league believes “everyone” should stand for the anthem.
“It is an important moment in our game,” Goodell wrote. “We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”
The NFL requires players to be on the sideline for the anthem, but the guidelines only say they “should” stand.
NFL communications director Joe Lockhart said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters that any potential change to the guidelines would be discussed at the meetings.
When asked if the word “should” might be changed to “must,” Lockhart said there is a desire among the owners “to have a common position that either affirms where we are now or adjusts where we are now. That’s all for next week.”
Lockhart said discussions about the anthem will be “front and center” at the meetings.
“They will have a chance to discuss the issue, to look at policy and look at ideas if there’s a need to change the policies,” Lockhart said.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who took a knee along with his entire team before the playing of the anthem before a Monday night game in Arizona earlier this month, has now demanded that all his players stand for the anthem at the risk of being benched. No Cowboys player has demonstrated during the anthem.
The Dolphins have also announced that they want all their players to stand for the song.
Lockhart declined to say whether the league believes that a team can force players to stand for the anthem.
“I think there will be a discussion about the entire issue, including the policy,” Lockhart said. “I’m not going to predict what might happen.”
Several NFL players continue to take a knee or raise a fist on the sidelines during the anthem as their way of protesting racial injustice in America, and the issue continues to be highly debated, going all the way to the highest political office in the country. President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized NFL players who don’t stand for the anthem, and said on Twitter Tuesday that the NFL should no longer get tax breaks.
“Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!” Trump tweeted.
The NFL is actually no longer a tax-exempt corporation. In 2015, the league abdicated its tax-exempt status, in part because the NFL didn’t want the negative publicity when salaries of many employees, including Goodell, became public record.
The league no longer has to publish those salaries. Lockhart said part of the reason the league decided to no longer seek tax exempt status was to avoid “distraction.”
Trump also commended Vice President Mike Pence for walking out of Sunday’s Colts-49ers game in Indianapolis after several 49ers players took a knee during the anthem.
Goodell closed Tuesday’s letter by saying that the NFL is “at its best when we ourselves are unified. In that spirit, let’s resolve that next week when we will meet this challenge in a unified and positive way.”