NFL owners are expected to discuss the controversy surrounding the pregame playing of the national anthem, including potential changes to the league's policy, at next week's meetings.
“The important point here is the owners are gathering next week for our fall meetings next week in New York,” NFL vice president of communications Joe Lockhart said Tuesday in a conference call. “They will have a chance, all of them, to discuss this issue, to look at the policy and look at ideas if there is a need to change the policies. But we will have the 32 owners here next week and I fully expect this to be front and center on the agenda.”
On Sunday, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that any player on his team seen “disrespecting the flag” would not be allowed to play. It was the first time an owner has expressly stated to the media that a player would face discipline for protesting.
At the center of the issue is an excerpt from the league’s game operations manual regarding the policies for the anthem. The guideline states that NFL players “must be on the sideline” for the national anthem and “players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand and refrain from talking.”
The difference in the words “must” and “should” have prompted some confusion about what conduct the league mandates, but the league has not disciplined players who have opted to kneel or sit.
“Nothing has changed from our view since we have been talking about this since Week 1,” Lockhart said. “I’m going to leave it there.”
Lockhart called Jones’ comments in regards to the Cowboys a “moot point” because of all of its players have stood for the anthem, though defensive linemen Damontre Moore and David Irving raised a fist Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. But Jones indicating that he would bench a player who protested could set a precedent that could impact whether or not players would feel comfortable drawing awareness to issues important to them.
“The manual is clear when it says the players should stand for the anthem,” Lockhart said. “That manual governs the issues around the anthem for the entire league and for the 32 clubs. As you know, and as I’ve stated on multiple occasions, to date, there hasn’t been discipline for those who have chosen not to stand.”
In a letter sent to all 32 teams and obtained by USA TODAY Sports NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, "We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players." Goodell said the league and owners would review a plan to do address the issue at the meetings.
“I think everyone at this point is frustrated by this situation,” Lockhart said. “I think the Commissioner and the owners do want the players to stand. The Commissioner has said that from the beginning and over the last year, and the owners have said that, because we think it’s an important part of the game.
“I think the players are frustrated because the issues they’re trying to raise awareness about and try to enact progress have been distorted in a game of political football. Each and every one of them have made clear that they are patriotic. They do have respect for the flag. But they have important issues here and they are trying to raise them.
“And I think our fans are frustrated because football is traditionally a unifying event, a unifying thing for people. And it’s an escape from the divisive politics that face this country right now. I think there’s a strong feeling across the league from every level that we ought to get back to football.”