NFL owners spent hours Tuesday attempting to repair their national anthem policy, an effort that has exposed deep divisions among franchises and left them struggling to find common ground.
The discussions are expected to resume Wednesday morning, with a resolution possible by the end of the day.
Among the possibilities discussed, according to sources, were:
Allow each team to implement its own policy
Clear the field of all football personnel while the anthem is played
Instruct players who don’t want to stand to remain in the locker room while the anthem is played
Impose penalties on teams and players who do not stand, including a 15-yard penalty and/or fines
Add contract language that requires players to stand
Leave the current policy in place
The league’s current policy states that players “should” stand for the anthem but does not require them to do so. It has allowed dozens of players to kneel during the past two seasons in protest of police brutality, drawing the ire of President Donald Trump and others. Last fall, Trump implored owners to fire players who kneeled, saying it was disrespectful to the flag.
Owners are divided on how best to remove the story from the news cycle. They have worked with players to create an $89 million social justice platform, but the issue has remained in the public sphere following collusion charges from two players — quarterback Colin Kaepernick and safety Eric Reid — who kneeled and remain unsigned as free agents.
Some owners want to require players to stand, while others do not. Most declined comment Tuesday, but the Dallas Cowboys‘ Jerry Jones — who threatened to bench any of his players who kneeled last season — questioned whether there is enough support to require players to stand.
“It’s not that easy,” Jones said. “We’ve got a lot of things that we’re trying to balance. We have the interest in every constituency that’s involved here, and the issues that are involved, and we recognize that with our visibility and the interest itself, it’s taken a life of its own.”
The overriding factor in discussions, Jones said, is the interest of fans.
“I’m not trying to diminish issues of our rights here,” he said. “But the No. 1 thing here is our fans. And I know our fans want us to zero in on the game, zero in on football. They want to come to the game and get away from a lot of the other issues that are out there.
“One thing that is certainly from my standpoint is I’m trying to figure out the very best way for when somebody thinks ‘NFL,’ they think about who is starting at quarterback and who is going to come out hot in the third quarter. We’ve got to make sure that whatever we decide here, it’s oriented toward getting their minds on what’s going on on the football field.”
Jones said that “no one came to this meeting with a blank” but said there were no “new ideas expressed.”
“I don’t know that I heard any new ideas, which doesn’t mean ‘not worthy’ ideas,” Jones continued. “But there is no inventing the wheel here. This is pretty straightforward. I didn’t hear anybody that had an [obvious] answer.”
Owners will reconvene Wednesday morning to resume the discussion. Asked if he thought there is enough momentum to reach a resolution, New York Giants co-owner John Mara said, “I think so,” but declined to comment further.