NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday reiterated that he wants players to stand for the national anthem, but the league did not make a rule that will require it.
Speaking at a news conference in New York at the end of two-day owner meetings, Goodell said the owners talked about the protests again on Wednesday among themselves. On Tuesday, owners and players discussed the protests, which have seen players sit or take a knee during the playing of the anthem to protest racial inequality.
“We need to keep the focus on the fact that we believe that our players should stand for the national anthem,” Goodell said. “That is an important part of our game and an important moment and we believe in that.
“We also have to focus on the fact that we have six or seven players that are involved with the protest at this point and what we try to do is deal with the underlying issue and understand what it is they are protesting and what we can do to address that.”
Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters has been among the players who have not stood during the playing of the national anthem at games this season. President Trump has repeatedly said he believes the players should stand and criticized the league over the issue.
Since the start of this season, some fans have pledged not to watch another game until all the players stand, while others have burned team jerseys. There have been talks of boycotting NFL sponsors. TV ratings are down 7.5 percent compared with last year.
“I understand the way our fans feel about this issue and we feel the same way — about the importance of our flag and the importance of patriotism,” Goodell said. “I also think our players feel the same way, they will state to you and they will state it to everyone publicly — they are not doing this in any way to be disrespectful to the flag. However, they also understand how it is being interpreted and we are trying to deal with those underlying issues.”
There is no league rule about behavior during the national anthem, but the NFL’s operations manual encourages every player to stand.
Earlier this month, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said any player who disrespects the U.S. flag would be benched. Goodell declined to address what the NFL would do if a team punished a player for protesting.
“I think our clubs all see this the same way — we want our players to stand and we are going to continue to encourage them to stand and we are going to continue to work on these issues in the communities,” Goodell said. “I can’t deal with hypotheticals right now; we will deal with those issues if they come up.”