EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held a round-table meeting with roughly 25 owners, league executives and players on Tuesday night to discuss the national anthem demonstrations.
New York Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas said the summit at the league’s headquarters in New York lasted roughly two hours and was attended by several of the NFL’s most prominent owners, including John Mara of the Giants, Robert Kraft of the Patriots and Art Rooney II of the Steelers. NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent also attended along with eight players from five teams.
Casillas said the group talked about what to do to move forward and how to approach the “whole kneeling situation.”
“It was a whole bunch of opinions shared,” Casillas said. “There was nothing we decided we’re going to do collectively. I think it was a very conducive meeting.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the gathering was one of the many conversations that have happened this week within the NFL.
“The commissioner believed with all the owners here for committee meetings it was important to bring in some players and hear directly from them,” McCarthy said in responding to an email from The Associated Press. “While the conversations will remain private, they were very informative and instructive.”
Patriots safety Devin McCourty and special teams captain Matt Slater both joined Kraft for the meeting with Goodell. McCourty said his biggest takeaway was “just understanding.”
“From both sides,” McCourty said. “I think that players saw that when owners came out with different statements on Sunday. I think the biggest thing is as players we have to keep in the forefront what we want to get (awareness for) – the inequality, the injustice. I think that’s what’s important.”
McCourty emphasized not only the unity on the Patriots, but throughout the NFL.
“I think we gotta make sure this whole thing doesn’t turn into the NFL vs. Donald Trump,” he said. “As players … we have an agenda of what we think can be done better. We’re trying to use our platform. We have to stick to that.
“It’s not really this war of whether does the NFL have our back or let’s battle Trump. But I do think (the owners) are willing to help us get some of these things going. Hopefully that is what happens out of all of this.”
Casillas said the commissioner did not say a lot in the meeting, letting the owners and players talk. He said it was clear to all sides that kneeling during the national anthem is not conveying the message the players’ want of the need for social change.
“We’re at a trying time right now, with all the racial situations: the kneeling, the (perception of) disrespecting of the flag, and also fans pulling away from the greatest professional sports league in the country,” Casillas said. “And that’s being considered. It’s being felt by owners and players. It’s something that I think moving forward, we have to address.
“Last weekend was a tough weekend. Everybody was paying attention, I’m pretty sure this weekend coming up everybody is going to be watching the beginning of the game …”
Casillas and several Giants leaders met with Mara on Wednesday to discuss the demonstrations. The co-owner told them that the team preferred the players stand during the anthem, but if they felt a need to kneel, they were free to do it, and the team would support them.
Former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick had been the focal point of the anthem demonstrations since he began kneeling more than a year ago. He was released after last season and is no longer on a roster.
Casillas does not think Kaepernick will play in the league again. He also said Kaepernick deserves to be on a roster, noting no starter goes from losing his job to out of the league in one season.
Seattle’s Russell Wilson is a quarterback with no worries about job security; he’s one of the NFL’s best. He’s encouraged by meetings such as the one Goodell held Tuesday.
“This is a real situation. This is my kids, your kids, this is our lives, this is everybody’s situation,” Wilson said. “It’s not something we can take lightly or ignore or brush to the side. It’s something we have to address and I don’t fear addressing it because I believe in it. I believe that love is the way. I really firmly believe in that and unifying people and bringing people together and understanding we are capable of finding a way to love better.
“If we can do that, I think that is how you bridge that gap and how you bring people together. I’m not going to shy away from that by any means.”
AP Sports Writers Tim Booth and Kyle Hightower contributed.
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