NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held a news conference today to discuss the ongoing controversy about player protests and, ostensibly, to respond to President Donald Trump’s latest angry tweet about them. But amid a number of repeated words and phrases like “dialogue,” “understanding” and “underlying issues,” he certainly didn’t clarify much — though he noted that it’s time “to make sure we get back to football.”
He also never mentioned POTUS by name, by office or by preferred social media option. Goodell also reiterated that NFL players “should” stand for the national anthem but said they won’t be forced to do so.
“We believe everyone should stand for the national anthem — that’s an important part of our policy,” he told reporters. “It’s also an important part of our game that we all take great pride in. And it’s also important for us to honor our flag and our country, and we think our fans expect us to do that. So that is something we continue to focus on this morning but really talking a lot about the opportunity that exists for our players to try to go and really make a difference in our communities in a positive way.”
Trump this morning slammed the league on Twitter after Tuesday meetings in Manhattan with team owners did not produce adoption of a requirement that players stand during the anthem at games. Those talks also included a four-hour sit-down with players. Owners told sports reporters not to expect NFL to toe Trump’s line by the time they wrap meetings today.
When a reporter noted that the NFL’s Game Operations Manual states a “policy” that players must be on the field for the national anthem and stand attention holding their helmets in their hands, he asked why the league doesn’t make that a “rule.”
“Again, we believe that our player should stand for the national anthem. That’s an important part of our game and our moment, and we believe in that. I think we also have to keep focus on this – we have about six or seven players that are involved with this protest at this point. And this is something that, what we try to do is deal with the underlying issue and understand what it is that they’re protesting and try to address that matter. So the important thing for us is to be able to do that and take that opportunity to make real differences in our community, and that is really what going to ultimately be the important aspect for us long-term – because this is a long-term issue. We need to make sure we do that in the right way.”
He added later, “We’re going to encourage our players to stand.”
One writer asked Goodell point blank: “Are you willing to put the [NFL] Shield on the line to get into some sticky political and social debates?”
“We’re not afraid of the tough conversations; that’s what we’re having with our players … to make sure we know where they’re coming from. And I think out of those discussions, they understand that the owners in the NFL really do care about their issues and what we can do to make the communities betters. I think that’s what dialogue is all about.”
The longtime NFL commissioner also addressed “how important this is to our sponsors, partners and licensees. It’s important to us also, so we all share that. We certainly are in great contact with them, we understand the issues, we want to make sure they understand our perspective and what we’re doing. And in fact, if they can help us, we want them to help us in those issues. But all of this is part of the ongoing effort and understanding one another and making sure we do the right thing in our communities and the right thing to support our players but also do the right thing to make sure we get back to football. And in the meantime, people will understand how important our country is and how important it is to be sure that we are doing things the right way to honor our country.”
When asked about polling that suggests a partisan divide over the protest issue, Goodell said, “What we’re trying to do is stay out of politics.”
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the protest movement in 2016 when he took a knee during the anthem. Then, about a month ago, Trump told team owners that any time a player took a knee, they should “get the son of a bitch” off the field.” And a culture war was born.
NFL players have been taking a knee during the anthem to draw game viewers’ attention to their concerns about racial issues, but Trump insists it’s an act of disrespect to the flag and the military. Last month Trump called for the suspension and firing of players who take a knee during the anthem.
Players and coaches have knelt during the anthem, which some saw as a nose-thumb of Trump, and #TakeAKnee became a trending hashtag.
Lisa de Moraes contributed to this report.