NFL owners will have a comprehensive discussion next week at their regularly scheduled meeting in New York about the controversy over players’ protests during the national anthem and will determine then whether it is permissible for a team to force its players to stand for the anthem, a top league official said Tuesday.
“I think there will be a discussion about the entire issue, including the policy … I’m not going to predict what might happen,” Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications and public affairs, said in a conference call with reporters.
Lockhart declined to give a direct answer when asked whether the league believes that a team, under current rules, is within its rights to compel its players to stand for the anthem.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Sunday that any Cowboys player who protests during the anthem and, in Jones’s view, thereby shows disrespect to the American flag will be benched and will not play.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross also has said he expects his team’s players to stand for the anthem. The Dolphins enacted a policy this past weekend by their coach, Adam Gase, in which players must stand for the anthem if on the team’s sideline, but have the option to remain in the locker room or in the tunnel leading to the field for the anthem.
“We’re going to do this together as an ownership group and a league with the players,” Lockhart said Tuesday.
Owners are scheduled to meet next Tuesday and Wednesday in Manhattan. It is their regular fall meeting and was scheduled before the anthem controversy was amplified by recent comments made by President Donald Trump.
“I think everyone at this point is frustrated by this situation,” Lockhart said, and soon added: “The commissioner and the owners do want the players to stand.”
Lockhart said “nothing has changed” regarding the league’s view of enforcing anthem-related guidelines in its game operations manual. That manual, distributed to teams by the league, says that players must be on the sideline for the anthem and should be standing. Failure to be on the sideline could result in discipline being imposed, the manual says. The league has not issued any discipline this season for such violations.
“It doesn’t say the players must stand,” Lockhart said. “It says the players should stand.”
Lockhart said he does not know whether DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, and other union representatives were told by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and New York Giants co-owner John Mara during a meeting last week that players would not face discipline for protests during the anthem, as Smith said Monday.
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