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NFL plans no change to national anthem policy, at least through season and perhaps longer

Fans watch as a large U.S. flag is unfurled during the playing of the national anthem during an NFL game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018.

JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO/BAY AREA NEWS GROUP/TNS

By MARK MASKE | The Washington Post | Published: October 17, 2018

NEW YORK — NFL owners left a two-day meeting here Wednesday with no plans to make any changes to the sport's national anthem policy for the foreseeable future, according to multiple people familiar with the league's inner workings.

That policy has been in flux since the owners modified it in May, only to put those changes on hold in July as part of an agreement with the NFL Players Association. The league and the NFLPA have been negotiating in an attempt to craft an anthem policy agreeable to both sides.

But those deliberations have not yielded a compromise so far on a new anthem policy. Meanwhile, the controversy over protests by players during the anthem has dissipated this season. Few players are protesting by kneeling during the playing of the anthem. President Donald Trump's criticisms of the protests have been less frequent and have not produced the same public outcry as they did previously. The league is experiencing a prosperous season in which the quality of the on-field play has been praised and television viewership has rebounded.

Those people familiar with the NFL's inner workings said that the league and the owners will leave the anthem policy unchanged and untouched at least through the conclusion of this season, and perhaps longer. There is no incentive, they said, for the NFL to revisit the issue and potentially reignite the controversy.

The anthem policy had been expected to be discussed at this week's meetings in New York within the context of a larger conversation about social-justice initiatives with the players. But when that discussion took place Tuesday, there was no talk about the anthem, two people involved in the meeting said.

One owner called the lack of focus on the anthem controversy at this meeting "refreshing."

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after the meeting: "As it had to do with our players, I know one of the owners stood up and said, 'We have really gotten in a place that's positive. Not that we weren't. But we've benefited from this.' I agree. Just in relationships and sorting through where we want to go, I know that I'm so impressed with the social programs that the clubs and the players have engaged in."

Jones, a staunch advocate of players standing for the anthem, was asked if there no longer is a need for the league to revisit its anthem policy.

"I don't know about that," Jones said. "I think we have rules in place. So I think we're right now going forward just as we went into the season, relative to the league."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did not directly answer questions about the anthem policy during his news conference Wednesday following the meeting, speaking about the league and the owners being focused on their social-justice initiatives with the players.

"I think that's where our focus is right now, as it should be," Goodell said.

The revamped May policy empowered the league to fine a team for a protest by a player. It left it up to the team to decide if a player would be disciplined for a protest. It also gave players the option to remain in the locker room during the anthem. The NFLPA filed a grievance and contemplated possible legal action. The July agreement put the union's grievance on hold, along with the provisions of the league's May policy.

The NFL still faces a collusion grievance by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He began the players' protest movement by refusing to stand for the anthem before games in 2016 to bring attention to racial inequality and police treatment of African-Americans. Kaepernick remains unsigned and has accused teams and the league of improperly colluding against him.

Kaepernick's former 49ers teammate, safety Eric Reid, resumed his protests this season after being signed by the Carolina Panthers. Miami Dolphins players Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson have protested this season. But few other players have been protesting, and some players have said their focus has turned fully to community-activism endeavors.

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