The NFL's league office and NFL owners are concerned about the charged political climate surrounding player protests during the national anthem, but while that will be a major topic of conversation at this week's league meetings, no sweeping game-day changes are expected, according to league and NFLPA sources.
Some owners, led by Jerry Jones, would like to see enforcement of the current policy, as noted in the NFL's gameday operations manual, which could subject players and teams to fines and other discipline for failing to stand during the anthem. However, any further changes to that language is not expected this week, but rather the league, the owners, players and NFLPA officials will be discussing ways to take social activism and engagement beyond pregame displays.
As previously reported, commissioner Roger Goodell has maintained a consistent and ongoing dialogue with many players, since the summer, about getting the league office, owners and other team and league employees directly involved in the community outreach being conducted by players and creating more awareness of those efforts. Sources said the NFL, in its discussions with those parties Tuesday in New York at part of the annual Fall Meeting, will continue to stress a willingness to do more in that regard but will also suggest that the game-day protests have now obscured some of that message of fighting oppression, racism and police brutality, which was the impetus of the original protest started by Colin Kaepernick. Owners plan to further explain how the protests are threatening the bottom line of the league and will seek to build a bridge with players in the hopes that, moving forward, the spotlight will be on what they do outside of the stadiums rather than on any demonstrations before kickoff.
However, the sources maintained that there is no expectation that the NFL would issue an ultimatum or mandate on the matter, though it's quite possible the league could re-affirm the existing language in the gameday manual. While there is a faction of hardline owners who would prefer the NFL specify specific fines for various forms of protest, there are also other owners who feel that would only serve to deepen player unrest and further the political aspect of the situation, with the league office trying to straddle a difficult line with the president continuing to rail at players, owners and the league office.
"Basically, the message from the NFL is going to be that it has empathy for its players and the situation they now find themselves in," said one source with knowledge of the league's preparations for these meetings. "And therefore you've seen no enforcement of the rule about the anthem in the gameday manual. But now this has morphed into something that is seen as divisive and disrespectful toward the flag and our servicemen and women by a segment of the country, and that's not what was intended by the players or the NFL.
"So the league is going to encourage the players to follow the gameday manual and vow to continue to engage directly with players and the NFLPA on a platform to work for positive change in their communities. It's not going to be – 'If you don't stand then you are going to get fined.' Some owners might favor that, but that's not the intention here."
Internally, the NFL and its owners are of the belief that they could, if they so desired, vote for more stringent pregame rules without requiring NFLPA approval, but the league is not exploring that avenue at this point, sources said. "For everyone who has speculated over the last few days that somehow there is a proposal set for a vote on Tuesday or Wednesday, you are speculating, and those who are reporting it as fact are reporting it incorrectly."
The NFL intends to continue an open dialogue with union heads and players on the manner in an attempt to gain a measure of solidarity moving forward. Ultimately, what comes out of the meeting may be more of a joint mission statement toward achieving those goals rather than a change of NFL rules or policies.