The NFL and its players union on Tuesday said they held “productive” talks about the league’s social justice efforts amid an ongoing debate about national anthem protests, though the talks did not appear to yield any changes to league policy on whether players must stand during the ceremony.
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A group of 11 owners and more than a dozen players met at the league's headquarters. Among the topics discussed was enhancing the players' platforms for speaking out on social issues.
"We heard what they had to say and they heard us," Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said. "It's open talks and that's a good thing."
Ross said that 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 the teams last week that the NFL prefers for players to stand during "The Star-Spangled Banner."
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."
While the NFL’s current policy does not require players to stand for the anthem, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones generated criticism earlier this month when he vowed to bench any player who kneels during the anthem in the future.
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 Darius Butler (Indianapolis), 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), Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long (Philadelphia), Eric Reid (San Francisco) and Josh Norman (Washington).
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 former 49ers quarterback Colin 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, 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.