National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a letter sent to every NFL team that the dispute over football players kneeling during the national anthem is threatening to erode the “unifying power” of the game.
Goodell never expressly says the NFL will require players to stand for the national anthem, an action that would likely spark a labor fight between players and the NFL. He does say, however, that the NFL will discuss the nationwide dispute at an upcoming meeting in New York.
“We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players,” Goodell wrote in the letter obtained by ESPN and several other media outlets.
Here is an excerpt of Goodell’s letter sent to NFL owners and their teams:
I’m very proud of our players and owners who have done the hard work over the past year to listen, understand and attempt to address the underlying issues within their communities. At our September committee meetings, we heard directly from several players about why these issues are so important to them and how we can support their work. And last week, we met with the leadership of the NFLPA and more players to advance the dialogue.
Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem. It is an important moment in our game. 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.
Building on many discussions with clubs and players, we have worked to develop a plan that we will review with you at next week’s League meeting. This would include such elements as an in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues, and that will help to promote positive change in our country. We want to ensure that any work at the League level is consistent with the work that each club is doing in its own community, and that we dedicate a platform that can enable these initiatives to succeed. Additionally, we will continue the unprecedented dialogue with our players.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem last year in an action intended to draw attention to police violence against black Americans. The NFL protest has escalated this season with players across the league choosing to kneel before or during the anthem.
Opponents to the kneeling during NFL games, including President Donald Trump, have argued that it’s a sign of disrespect for the U.S. and those who have served in its military.
On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence left an Indianapolis Colts game because members of the opposing 49ers knelt during the anthem.