NFL Protests Reach A Boiling Point, As Players, Owners Cancel Social Concerns Meeting

SUNDAY NIGHT UPDATE:  Things are going from bad to worse regarding relations between NFL players, owners and fans.

On a day when the largest national anthem protest yet was staged, it now appears that players and owners will not be meeting as planned to discuss a solution to the ongoing social justice concerns that prompted the protests.

Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, one of the key spokesmen for the players, says a meeting between the owners and players to discuss social justice initiatives has been canceled. Jenkins claimed the league did not accept an invitation for the meeting, which was to be held Monday in Philadelphia, saying scheduling issues would not permit them to attend.

“They want to get back to football; we want to move past anthem demonstrations,” Jenkins said. “But to do that, we need to be able to replace the platform that we have.”

There may be more to the cancelled meeting than scheduling problems. Reports have also surfaced that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is under fire, with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spearheading the opposition. Jones reportedly led a 17-owner conference call on Thursday to discuss whether a pending contract extension for Goodell could be halted.

Reports indicate that owners are unhappy over Goodell’s handling of the national anthem protests, but also do not like the way the relocation of two teams to Los Angeles was managed and the poor public relations caused by the NFL’s botched investigation of Ray Rice’s domestic violence issue.

UPDATE:  In the largest national anthem protest by NFL players to date, the majority of Houston Texans players took a knee during the anthem before their game with the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle.

The team was angry at owner Bob McNair’s remarks referring to players as “inmates” and had contemplated several actions, including staying in the tunnel or an outright game boycott, apparently settling on kneeling. Reports indicate only about 10 Houston players stood during the anthem. It was the first time this year the Texans had protested during the anthem.

The Seahawks, who have been among the league’s more active protestors, also saw linemen Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson, Cliff Avril, Jarran Reed, Frank Clark, Quinton Jefferson, Marcus Smith, Branden Jackson and Nazair Jones kneel, with lineman Dion Jordan standing next to them. Also kneeling: offensive linemen Justin Britt and Oday Aboushi, and linebacker Michael Wilhoite.

CBS did not televise the protest, opting to continue coverage of a golf tournament before the game.

Elsewhere, the other Texas team continued to toe the line during the national anthem. All of the Dallas Cowboys stood for the national anthem before their game against  the Washington Redskins, but Dallas defensive end David Irving briefly raised his fist after the anthem. Late last week, Dallas cut defensive lineman Damontre Moore, who had joined Irving in raising a fist during several national anthems. The team insisted Moore’s firing had nothing to do with his protests, but was merely a roster move.

EARLIER:

The eyes of Texas and the rest of the NFL are fixed on Seattle, where today’s Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks game promises to mark a true showdown between national anthem protesting players and the rest of the league establishment.

Houston players are seething from remarks made by team owner Bob McNair at the Oct. 17 NFL meetings. McNair blurted that the league couldn’t have “inmates running the prison,” a remark that instantly caused an uproar in a league where 70 percent of players are black and already protesting perceived injustice.

McNair met with the team on Saturday and has publicly apologized twice for his remarks. But a Texans players meeting last night reportedly ended with a decision to stage a major protest during today’s national anthem. The Texans are playing in Seattle with an early afternoon start.

Left tackle Duane Brown told ESPN that “up to 65 to 70 percent” of the team’s players could kneel, but that a suggestion to remove the team’s decals from their helmets will not happen. At one point, players even considered not appearing for the contest, according to reports.

Whatever happens, players on teams in the rest of the league also took notice of McNair’s remarks, with some calling him akin to Donald Sterling, the former Los Angeles Clippers owner who was suspended and forced to sell his team by the NBA after racially charged remarks that were recorded came to light. Some league players are calling for McNair to receive similar treatment, and while that is a longshot, it’s not out of the question if the ill-will lingers.

Given that player protests escalate whenever a major outsider re-ignites the controversy, it’s likely that increased anthem kneeling and other protests will take place around the league this Sunday.

Looking ahead, the NFL will resume its meetings between Commissioner Roger Goodell, team owners, league officials, player representatives and select players from around the league. This week, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been formally invited to participate in at least the first meeting of the week, set for Monday in Philadelphia.

Kaepernick started the anthem protests last year, but became a free agent this season and failed to sign with any other team. His status outside the league has rankled many players and others, who believe he is being deliberately shunned while players of lesser talent are given opportunities.

What happens next for the league is crucial. A wave of bad publicity has hurt television ratings and attendance, and team ownership and league players are largely on separate planets when it comes to goals.

The money-minting days of the NFL are clearly in jeopardy from ownership’s standpoint, and players point to a perceived lack of enthusiasm by the NFL at fostering their passion for increased social awareness and activism against injustices, pointing to breast cancer and other social causes that have received league support.

Kaepernick’s presence at the upcoming meetings may be a true Hail Mary by a league that knows it has already alienated a large portion of its fan base.

In early games, the San Francisco 49ers had seven players kneel during the national anthem before their game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Philadelphia, including Eric Reid, Marquise Goodwin, Adrian Colbert and Ali Harold .The 49ers have been among the league’s most active anthem protests. For the Eagles, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod raised fists during the song, with Chris Long offering a supporting hand on Jenkins’s shoulder.

In London, all members of the Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns stood during the US national anthem, but Vikings players locked arms.

In Buffalo, all members of the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills stood, but Bills Shareece Wright and Mike Tolbert again stood behind their teammates. For the Raiders, it was the first weekend that all members stood, but running back Marshawn Lynch, who has sat during the anthem since pre-season, was suspended for the game for fighting in a previous contest.

In New England, Los Angeles Chargers tackle Russell Okung, who has been increasingly vocal on player protests, stood with his fist raised during the national anthem. All members of the NFL champion Patriots stood during the song.

The New Orleans Saints kneeled before the national anthem at their home game, but rose just before the song was played. Many fans booed during the kneeling period. All members of the Chicago Bears stood during the anthem.

At a rainy Meadowlands, all members of the New York Jets linked arms during the national anthem, with team CEO Chris Johnson again standing with them. All members of the Atlanta Falcons stood.

At Cincinnati, the Indianapolis Colts joined arms on the sideline.

In Baltimore, Miami Dolphins Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas and Michael Thomas again remained in the tunnel leading to the field during the national anthem, as they have done for several weeks. Miami now has a team rule requiring players to stand if they are on the sidelines, but offers the option to stay indoors before the song if they so choose.

Deadline will update throughout the day on player protests.