Derailing Factors Threaten Progress From Special Meeting Between Players and Owners
This week’s NFL special meeting attended by select players, select owners, Roger Goodell and union head DeMaurice Smith, was unquestionably a positive step. The consensus is that the conversation was constructive and open-ended. Falcons owner Arthur Blank called it, “one of the most open and productive meetings I’ve been in, maybe ever.”
So be it that the meeting’s inspiration may have been a toddler president rattling the masses by demanding players stand for the anthem or be fired and one week unifying wonder Jerry Jones insisting that he will not allow protesting players to take the field. Chaos, a splash of anarchy and droves of angry fans and sponsors probably drove us here. But at least we are here.
There was no transcript of the meeting and therefore no way to fully know how deep the conversation delved.
Goodell issued a short, vanilla statement about admiring these “men of great character” and how “these issues are our issues.” Key words like “police brutality” and “incarceration” were missing, as they were from Goodell’s longer press conference Wednesday.
One attendee, 49ers safety Eric Reid, who protested alongside Colin Kaepenrick all of last season and has carried the torch this year expressed his hopeful yet cautious outlook to The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas, “I think it’s a starting point, and that’s purely it. This is a long-term project, if you want to call it that,” Reid said. “There wasn’t much that was going to happen in a two-hour meeting. We are going to continue to meet, continue to have dialogue and figure out a way to get these issues on track.”
Goodell and Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin got the ball rolling when they co-authored a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsing the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017. Yet Reid is right, there is much work to be done, and many potential pitfalls.
While there seems to a newfound sense of simpatico– owners not just listening but feeling how the players are impacted by outside atrocities – the NFL’s 1% is not aligned. 49ers owner Jed York talked to reporters after the meeting about his own personal growth, how he was taken aback when Colin Kaepernick first kneeled but after listening to the issues completely understood where Kaepernick and other players are coming from. He also unequivocaly said he was fine with Reid and other 49ers continuing to kneeling. He even shot back at the president when he told Peter King: “We need to be above petty attacks from anyone because racial and socio economic inequality has existed in this country for too long.”
Jags owner Shad Khan responded to the president’s latest NFL tweet, a lame attempt at starting an anti-protest chant, by blasting him for being “jealous of the NFL.”
While the best case scenario is everyone in NFL circles blacking out the president, defending the league’s honor is certainly a unifying step. So is the understanding that with all the difficult community work that lies ahead, players cannot have their basic freedoms stripped in the process.
On this front, Jones continues to be a derailing factor. Despite being in New York, he did not attend the meeting with players, nor has he altered his Trumpain stance on punishing those who protest.
Had Goodell brought Jones into the fold on the issues and convinced him to back away from his threatening stance, called a spade a spade in the Oval Office, and let players handle the anthem as they see fit, we could all take solace that we are on the right path.
On the above, Goodell is 0-3.
As is often the case, Goodell is trying to please too many masters. He is being lauded for not changing the anthem policy at the behest of the president, but did say that he “believes everyone should stand for the national anthem. It’s an important part of our policy and the game. It’s important to honor our flag and our country and I think our fans expect that.”
He added: “We have about a half a dozen players that are protesting… We’re going to continue to work to try to put that at zero.” While Goodell’s heart may have been in the right place, his statement is factually false – the 49ers have at least six protesters per week alone – and it raises questions about his motivation. Does he truly want unarmed African Americans to stop getting unfairly brutalized by the police, or does he just want the anthem problem to go away?
As long as Jones is spewing ultimatums and the president is having Twitter tantrums, this issue will not vanish. Look no further than Seahawks DE Michael Bennett for proof, “It’s inconsiderate of a person being a human being,” Bennett said when asked about Jones. “To me, I just thought it reminded me of the Dred Scott case. You’re property; so you don’t have the ability to be a person first.”
Moreover, mass anger and resentment exists when considering the plight of the person ultimately responsible for any progress, Colin Kaepenrick. His backlisting, which at this point should be evident to anyone with functioning eyeballs, has caused so much pain and confusion. The league may forever be stained for how they treated Kaepernick how they stood by blindly and let the wolves come at him as if he were a murderer or abuser, not a global philanthropist.
To give Kaepernick’s sacrifice true purpose, to really be a partner for change, the commissioner and all owners must coalesce and show a unified front of empathy. That means showcasing real conviction, allowing players freedom of expression and most importantly, rolling up their sleeves. If not, this positive trajectory is in danger of falling in line with most things that define the NFL: Not For Long.