NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said “everyone should stand” for the national anthem in a letter sent to all 32 team owners Tuesday.
In the letter, first obtained by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Goodell bemoans the corrosive effect wrought by the controversy surrounding player protests.
“The current dispute over the National Anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country,” Goodell wrote. “Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem.”
“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,” the letter reads.
An Oct. 7 poll lends credence to Goodell’s statement that NFL fans expect players to honor the flag. The poll found that the league’s favorables dropped from from 57 percent to 44 percent between the end of August and the end of September. The NFL’s unfavorable rating went from 23 percent to 40 percent among top professional sports and college sports during the same period.
Goodell’s letter comes hours after reports emerged that NFL team owners are considering a rule change that would require players to stand during the national anthem.
The owners will convene a meeting next week to discuss the possibility of implementing the rule change, NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters on a Tuesday conference call. The recently disclosed meeting is the latest development in a weeks long controversy spurred by President Donald Trump’s attacks on NFL players and calls for a league boycott.
At the upcoming meeting owners will reportedly discuss a unilateral rule change that would empower the league to impose some currently undetermined penalty on players who refuse to stand for the anthem. Representatives from the players’ union, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), have strongly supported the players’ decision to protest the anthem, arguing the players are constitutionally entitled to kneel.
Lockhart suggested that the owners will be receptive to input form players but said the rule change would not require player approval.
The current NFL policy states that players “should” stand for the national anthem, but does not explicitly prohibit kneeling.
News of the meeting comes hours after Trump questioned why the league receives tax breaks on Twitter, citing the “disrespect” he believes its players express toward the country in his call for a change to the tax code.
Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2017
Lockhart said during the conference call that the NFL does not receive any special tax breaks and pointed out that the league surrendered its tax exempt status in 2015.
When asked to elaborate on Trump’s reference to NFL “tax breaks” during a Tuesday afternoon press conference, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pointed out that NFL teams receive billions in tax subsidies to help defray the cost of new stadiums.
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