NFL owners meet with players' union over national anthem protests

NEW YORK — NFL owners met with members of the players' union in New York Tuesday to discuss the league's stance on protests during the national anthem.

The protests nearly overshadowed games after President Donald Trump weighed in, saying the players should be fired.

The goal of Tuesday’s meeting was to move toward a plan that will end the protests while also finding ways to meet the players' goals.

However, Channel 9 sports reporter Matt Harris said players and owners never directly discussed the national anthem.

Instead, they talked about how to use players' platforms to discuss social issues impacting communities across the country.

"It's ongoing. It's not a resolution overnight, but obviously, these are issues that are important to the players and we just talked about some things going forward,"  Indiana Colts free safety Darius Butler said.

Over the past several months, some players have raised fists, locked arms and kneeled during the national anthem to protest underlying social issues.

Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers stayed in the locker room during the anthem before their game against the Saints last month, and last week, dozens of people took a knee outside Bank of America Stadium.

Recently, owner Jerry Richardson met with team captains and leaders to discuss social issues affecting the league, and possible solutions.

The current league policy does not require players to stand during the anthem.

The Miami Dolphins owner believes there won't be any changes in the near future because the issues are ongoing.

The league's policy suggests but does not mandate players standing for the national anthem.

"We are proud to be able to work with our players to highlight these issues to really put focus on the issues and how the game and the NFL and our players bring communities together when we are divided," NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell emphasized the need for productive dialogue among the owners and players when he sent a memo to the teams last week. He also invited players' union chief DeMaurice Smith and a group of players to attend the regularly scheduled meetings.

"Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem," Goodell wrote last week. "It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us.

"We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players."

While the backlash has been loud from those who believe the players have been protesting against the anthem or the American flag or the military, everyone involved with the league is seeking clarity.

As Lockhart has noted: "Owners across the league have spoken out on where they stand. The important thing now will be coming together as an ownership group to try to have a common position; a position that either affirms where we are now or perhaps adjusts where we are now."

With input from the National Football League Players Association and its members.

The league also will be supporting a bipartisan legislative bill in Congress that seeks reforms and targets enhanced mandatory minimums for prior drug felons; increases judicial discretion for sentencing; and reforms enhanced mandatory minimums and sentences.

"We felt that this was an issue over the last months as we have continued to work with our players on issues of equality and on issues of criminal justice reform that was surfaced for us," Lockhart said. And we thought it was appropriate to lend our support to it."

Asked about a potential pushback from the White House, Lockhart said he didn't know the president's position on the bill.

"I know that this has overwhelming bipartisan support and we think it's the right thing to do, so that is our focus right now," he said.