However, it appears there will be no rule passed to force that issue.
Goodell had a news conference at the NFL’s fall meetings that lasted about 20 minutes and almost every question was related to the anthem and player protests. Goodell’s main talking point was that the NFL also will listen to its players about social issues and wants to be a part of the solution.
Everyone was focused on what will happen at NFL games with the national anthem, which has become the most divisive issue among fans that the league has seen in a long time.
“We believe everyone should stand for the anthem,” Goodell said. “That’s an important part of our policy, it’s also an important part of our game that we all take great pride in. It’s also important for us to honor our flag and our country and we think our fans expect us to do that.”
The best outcome for the NFL would be for the players to stop protesting without the league making a rule change. Goodell sounded like the league hopes that if it keeps working with its players to help with their issues, with racial equality and law enforcement reform, then perhaps the protests will end.
“The fact is, we have about a half a dozen players that are protesting,” Goodell said. “We hope and we’re going to continue to work to try to put that at zero. That’s what we’d like to do. But we want to make sure we’re understanding what the players are talking about, and that’s complex.”
The number Goodell cited seems low, considering seven San Francisco 49ers players alone took a knee for last Sunday’s anthem, and as many as 30 49ers players were taking a knee two weeks ago. But it appeared he wanted to make it a point that it’s not as widespread of an issue as it is being made out to be.
“We believe our players should stand for the national anthem. That’s an important part of our game and our moments, and we believe in that,” Goodell said. “I think we also have to keep focus on this: We have about six or seven players involved in this protest at this point. This is something, what we’ve tried to do is we’ve tried to deal with the underlying issue and understand what it is they’re protesting and try to address that matter. The important thing for us is to be able to do that and take that opportunity to make real differences in our community. That is really what’s ultimately going to be the important aspect for us long term. Because this is a long-term issue.
“I understand the way our fans feel about this issue, and we feel the same way about the importance of our flag, the importance of patriotism, and I believe our players feel that way. The will state to you and they have stated to everyone publicly, they’re not doing this in any way to be disrespectful to the flag, but they also understand how it’s being interpreted.”
Goodell was also asked about the latest tweet from President Donald Trump about the NFL.
The NFL has decided that it will not force players to stand for the playing of our National Anthem. Total disrespect for our great country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2017
Goodell said he has not talked to Trump about the anthem issue.
“We respect our country, respect our flag, respect our national anthem,” Goodell said. “I think you look at our clubs and what they do on a daily basis, look at our players and what they do and how they participate in that, we all feel very strongly about our country and our pride.”
Goodell is in a tight spot. A lot of fans aren’t happy with the ongoing protests. Many players probably wouldn’t react well to being told to stand. The NFL doesn’t want to seem unsympathetic to the social issues they face, and that’s why Goodell spent so much time talking about it Wednesday. Add in the political aspect of this, with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence using the NFL and anthem protests to bring attention onto themselves, and it gets sticky for the NFL and Goodell.
“What we’re trying to do is stay out of politics,” Goodell said. “We’re not looking to get into politics. What we’re looking to do is continue to get people focused on football.”
That’s impossible at this point. Politics is squarely involved with the NFL, through this issue.
Another issue that was asked about was what happens if an owner punishes a player who kneels for the anthem. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recently made non-specific threats about players who don’t stand for the anthem.
“I can’t deal with hypotheticals right now,” Goodell said. “We’ll deal with those issues if they come up.”
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