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ATLANTA – After another round of lengthy discussions centered on the NFL’s national anthem dilemma, the league’s owners remain in search of a resolution on the polarizing matter.
At the annual spring meetings in Atlanta, owners checked off several items, like the approval of David Tepper’s $2.2 billion purchase of the Carolina Panthers and the adoption of a series of rule changes designed to make kickoffs safer. But as afternoon turned to evening, the group broke for the day and aimed to resume discussions Wednesday morning. The owners who were asked about the matter stopped short of guaranteeing a finalization of a rule on how players and teams should conduct themselves during the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner in the fall.
“We have all the interests in every constituency that’s involved here and the interests that are involved,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “We recognize that with our visibility and the interest themselves, it’s taken on a life of its own. With all of that we have to be measured. We tell the world, ‘Look at us. Don’t turn your head. Look at us. Wait a minute. Look at the NFL, look at what we’re doing.’ And we understand that when you have some issues, we’ve asked you to look, now, so let’s do as good as we can do.”
Jones spoke more extensively on the matter than any other owner but also declined to give specifics of Tuesday’s proposals and discussions. He did, however, stress the league’s strongest source of motivation for figuring out how to handle the protests – which former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began in 2016 as a way to draw awareness to the issues of police brutality and racial injustices. More players joined in participation across the league last season despite the fact that Kaepernick remained unemployed, seemingly blackballed by the owners. The issue has divided many, as some spectators support the players’ rights to protests and their missions, while others – including President Trump – turned the displays into a matter of patriotism.
“You’ve got a very genuine, very genuine stewardship for the teams and the ownership, and certainly their interest in the fans, which is probably No. 1, and I’m not trying to diminish issues of our rights here,” Jones said. “But the No. 1 thing here is our fans, and I know our fans want us to zero in on the game, zero in on football. They want to come to the game and get away from the issues that are going on out here. So, one thing that is certainly, from my standpoint, is I’m trying to figure out there very best way to make sure when someone thinks of the NFL, is they’re thinking, who’s starting at quarterback? Who’s coming out hot in the third quarter?”
Other owners, like the New York Giants’ John Mara, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Art Rooney and the New York Jets’ Woody Johnson, simply said talks remained ongoing, but declined to give extensive comments on the debate.
However, a person with knowledge of the situation said that the league’s owners remain divided on how to handle the protests. Some owners support the players and remain in favor of allowing them to exercise their rights of free speech. Others want the protests to end because they believe the demonstrations risk alienating fans and hurting the league’s bottom line.
One idea floated during the meetings – according to that person, who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature – involved a proposal which allowed for the handling of the protests on a team-by-team basis. The home team, under this proposal, would set the policy and any player that violated the rule would subject himself to a fine, and his team to a 15-yard penalty.
However, it remained unclear how much traction that idea had garnered as of Tuesday evening.
Asked why the NFL doesn’t just adopt a league-wide policy to avoid more division and inconsistencies, Jones said, “It’s not that easy. We’ve got a lot of things that we’re trying to balance.”
Jones said he didn’t know if the owners would reach a resolution by the conclusion of the meetings Wednesday afternoon.
“I don’t want to assess where we are tonight,” he said. “We’ll resume tomorrow.”
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.