New York (AFP) – NFL owners met with commissioner Roger Goodell and a handful of players for several hours prior to the league’s Thursday night game in Green Bay where patriotism was substituted for protests.
Players and coaches from both the Packers and the Chicago Bears linked arms during the pre-game anthem on Thursday as a show of unity but no one appeared to take a knee or raise a clenched fist as they had done in the past.
The Packers had asked their fans to also link arms in unity during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and while some small groups obliged, the majority of the crowd either held a hand over their heart, stood at attention and saluted or waved small American flags.
“I think there’s been some positive conversation that’s come out of it,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on Tuesday. “This is about equality.”
The players say they have been unfairly criticised and that the sitting, kneeling and raising clenched fists is to draw attention to racial injustice in America and not specific protests directed at the flag or anthem.
President Donald Trump has been locked in a feud with NFL players, owners and league officials over the symbolic protests. Last week, Trump called protesting players “sons of bitches” who should be fired.
Previously only a handful of players had been taking a knee during the anthem but on Sunday, after Trump’s comments, nearly 200 chose to make their point including the Pittsburgh Steelers who remained in the locker room except for one player.
Goodell was joined at the table by owners John Mara of the New York Giants, New England’s Robert Kraft, Pittsburgh’s Art Rooney, Jacksonville’s Shad Khan, Miami’s Stephen Ross, Philadelphia’s Jeffrey Lurie and Cleveland’s Jimmy Haslam.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones who donated $1 million to Donald Trump’s inauguration, was not part of the meeting, but a group of NFL players were.
The players included New York’s Jonathan Casillas; Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater of New England; and Cleveland’s Jason McCourty and Christian Kirksey.
Casillas, who was among the 20 to 30 people present at Thursday’s meeting, said no concrete decisions were made. Rather, it was an exchange of ideas on what the league plans to do moving forward and how to approach player protests.
“You got to see opinions from the owners and from the players as well,” Casillas told American broadcaster ESPN. “Stuff like that is very good, very proactive. Thank Trump for saying what he said because without him saying that, (1) the whole league wouldn’t have been so collectively together, (2) we would’ve never had a meeting.”
Casillas said the talks were informative.
“I know the owners for sure don’t want us kneeling,” Casillas said. “It’s what the message is getting across. People have been totally misconstruing the kneeling thing from when (Colin) Kaepernick did it in the beginning. Everyone is talking about the players disrespecting the flag. It’s never been said anything about kneeling down is disrespecting the flag.
“We discussed moving forward about the whole kneeling situation and basically John Mara said he can’t ask us to do anything, really. He just requests that we stand.”