One big cloud has hung over the first five weeks of 2017 NFL season — and it’s not the winless New York Giants. The polarizing issue of pregame protests with players kneeling or locking arms for “The Star-Spangled Banner” has dominated the discussion, and now Commissioner Roger Goodell has sent a memo to all 32 teams addressing the practice.
According to NFL.com, Goodell told the franchises that the league believes “everyone should stand for the National Anthem” and added, “We live in a country that can feel very divided.”
The commissioner also wrote that a plan is in place and set for review at the league’s fall owners meetings next week in New York. NFL.com said. Goodell’s plan “would include such elements as an in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues, and that will help to promote positive change in our country.”
The protests, for which some coaches and even owners have joined their players, have been a major part of the season thus far — thanks in no small part to President Donald Trump, who has weighed in (ad infinitum) on the issue, further driving the sides apart. Meanwhile, ratings are down for primetime games, with last night’s Monday Night Football hitting a season low for ESPN and the latest Sunday Night Football on NBC also posting its worst ratings of the season.
Things escalated on Sunday when Vice President Mike Pence walked out of a game in his home state of Indiana after some of the visiting San Francisco 49ers took a knee during the anthem. Trump tweeted emphatically about that too, after saying he put the Veep up to it.
Trump also reveled today in ESPN’s suspension of its on-air personality Jemele Hill after she repeatedly tweeted about the issue — at one point labeling POTUS a “white supremacist” — and Trump’s response to it.
Here is Goodell’s memo in full, per NFL.com:
“We live in a country that can feel very divided. Sports, and especially the NFL, brings people together and lets them set aside those divisions, at least for a few hours. The current dispute over the National Anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country.
“I’m very proud of our players and owners who have done the hard work over the past year to listen, understand and attempt to address the underlying issues within their communities. At our September committee meetings, we heard directly from several players about why these issues are so important to them and how we can support their work. And last week, we met with the leadership of the NFLPA and more players to advance the dialogue.
“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem. It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.
“Building on many discussions with clubs and players, we have worked to develop a plan that we will review with you at next week’s League meeting. This would include such elements as an in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues, and that will help to promote positive change in our country. We want to ensure that any work at the League level is consistent with the work that each club is doing in its own community, and that we dedicate a platform that can enable these initiatives to succeed. Additionally, we will continue the unprecedented dialogue with our players.
“I expect and look forward to a full and open discussion of these issues when we meet next week in New York. Everyone involved in the game needs to come together on a path forward to continue to be a force for good within our communities, protect the game, and preserve our relationship with fans throughout the country. The NFL is at its best when we ourselves are unified. In that spirit, let’s resolve that next week we will meet this challenge in a unified and positive way.”