After 11 NFL owners and 13 players met at league headquarters in New York City for more than three hours Tuesday, Falcons owner Arthur Blank said this to MMQB.com's Peter King: "I thought this was one of the most open and productive meetings I've been in, maybe ever, in any business I've been involved with."
The catalyst for the meeting: Remarks by President Donald Trump -- both to live audiences and through Twitter -- calling out the NFL for allowing players to "disrespect the flag" by silently protesting, often by kneeling, during the national anthem. Players have repeatedly explained that kneeling isn't a protest against the military or America but against social injustice.
Trump, who once said when asked if he thought Senator John McCain was a war hero, "I like people who weren't captured," presumably knows the players' true motives, yet continues to call for the NFL to mandate players stand during the anthem.
Despite the "open and productive" meeting Blank and the players were a part of on Tuesday, no agreement was made on the anthem policy. By Wednesday morning, Trump was tweeting about it:
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
King, who spoke with Blank and 49ers owner Jed York on Tuesday, asked the prescient (predictable?) question: "So what happens when President Trump, Tweet-guns blazing, rips the owners for not forcing players to stand?"
York: "We need to be above it. We need to be above petty attacks from anybody, because racial and socioeconomic inequality have existed in this country for too long. You've got to block out the noise and do your job."
Blank: "You know what I have learned in 75 years? Control what you can control. Be responsible for what you say and do. In the NFL, our values have to respect the shield. We always have had a partnership with our players and now we have to stand with them on these important issues."
Seven days ago, Trump again criticized former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem last season.
"I watched Colin Kaepernick, and I thought it was terrible, and then it got bigger and bigger and started mushrooming, and frankly the NFL should have suspended him for one game, and he would have never done it again," Trump told Fox News's Sean Hannity in an interview before an audience in Harrisburg, Pa. "They could have then suspended him for two games, and they could have suspended him if he did it a third time, for the season, and you would never have had a problem. But I will tell you, you cannot disrespect our country, our flag, our anthem — you cannot do that."
Earlier in the day Trump tweeted, "It is about time that Roger Goodell of the NFL is finally demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem — RESPECT OUR COUNTRY."
Trump was responding to a letter Goodell sent to every team days before that read in part, "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."
But the league has not enacted a rule requiring players to stand for the anthem. This was made clear in a joint statement from the NFL and the NFL Players Association, and nothing changed after Tuesday's meeting with owners and players.
It has been a month since Trump's remarks at an Alabama rally created this latest firestorm.
"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now," the president said at the time to a cheering crowd. "Out. He's fired. He's fired!"
Days later, more than 200 NFL players demonstrated during the anthem in protest. a 20-fold increase over the number of players who demonstrated in the season's opening week.