NFL owners, players have ‘positive’ meeting on social issues

NEW YORK — NFL players and owners met Tuesday to discuss social issues, and many came away thinking it was beneficial.

Indianapolis Colts defensive back Darius Butler, who was in attendance, said that the league and owners hearing the players’ perspective was the most important thing.

“Obviously it’s a different perspective,” he said. “I think that’s the most important thing when it comes to these issues, perspective and respect everyone’s right regardless of how they feel. Whether it is peacefully protesting or speaking on these issues. I think it’s important to respect everyone.”

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross also called the session “constructive.”

“We heard what they had to say and they heard us,” Ross said. “It’s open talks and that’s a good thing.”

A group of 11 owners and more than a dozen players met at the league’s headquarters. Among the topics discussed was enhancing players’ platforms for speaking out on social issues.

Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is credited for starting the movement by kneeling during the national anthem, was invited but did not attend the meeting, according to Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.

Ross said the NFL’s policy on the national anthem “did not come up.” That policy states that the players “should” stand for the anthem, and some have suggested the league would seek to change that to “must” stand. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a memo to teams last week that the NFL prefers for players to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Butler said he doesn’t think there will be any change in the rules regarding the anthem in the near future.

“It’s ongoing, it’s not going to be a resolution overnight,” he said. “Obviously these are issues important to the players. That’s what we talked about and some things going forward.”

Butler saw the meeting as a good step.

“I’m happy about it and I think it will be even more positive going forward,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean players taking a knee will stop.

“It’s going to be an individual choice,” Butler said. “I think the ownership, the team, the league and the players, I think are all going in the right direction.”

The players’ union and the league issued a joint statement just before the annual fall owners meetings began.

“Today owners and players had a productive meeting focused on how we can work together to promote positive social change and address inequality in our communities,” the statement said. “NFL executives and owners joined NFLPA executives and player leaders to review and discuss plans to utilize our platform to promote equality and effectuate positive change. We agreed that these are common issues and pledged to meet again to continue this work together.

“As we said last week, everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military. In the best American tradition, we are coming together to find common ground and commit to the hard work required for positive change.”

On hand at the meeting were Goodell and the league’s football operations chief, former player Troy Vincent; and owners Michael Bidwill (Arizona), Arthur Blank (Atlanta), Terry Pegula (Buffalo), Robert McNair (Houston), Shad Khan (Jacksonville), Ross, Robert Kraft (New England), John Mara (New York Giants), Art Rooney (Pittsburgh), Jeffrey Lurie (Philadelphia) and Jed York (San Francisco).

Representing the players were NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, union president Eric Winston, former player Anquan Boldin, and current players Butler, Russell Okung (Los Angeles Chargers), Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas and Michael Thomas (Miami), Mark Herzlich (New York Giants), Kelvin Beachum and Demario Davis (New York Jets), Jenkins and Chris Long (Philadelphia), Eric Reid (San Francisco) and Josh Norman (Washington).

Jenkins, who has been at the center of the movement to call attention to social issues, said the meeting was collaborative.

“This was the first time we have gotten the chance to sit down in front of ownership,” Jenkins said. “We felt they were receptive. We felt there was a real dialogue. We felt it was positive.”

Earlier, outside of the hotel where the owners are meeting, two dozen supporters of Black Lives Matter New York held a rally backing the players for speaking out — particularly Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem last year in protest of racial injustice in America. Demonstrations during the anthem increased when President Donald Trump called the players unpatriotic if they knelt during the anthem, with both players and league executives saying the meaning of the protests has been misconstrued by the president and his supporters.

At a game earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium after several 49ers knelt during the anthem.

Also Tuesday, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was confronted by two people in the lobby of the Manhattan hotel where the owners are meeting. The protesters shouted at him about white supremacy while Jones was surrounded by bodyguards. Jones stopped to listen but said nothing, and the protesters were peacefully led away.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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