NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made it clear Wednesday the league believes its players should stand during the national anthem, but said the league has no plans to make them do so.
"I think our clubs all see this the same way -- we want our players to stand, we're going to encourage them to stand and we're going to continue to work on these issues in the community," Goodell told reporters after meeting with team owners at the Fall League Meeting in New York. "We'll address issues -- I can't deal with hypotheticals right now, we'll deal with those issues if they come up -- but for right now, that's our focus."
Said Goodell: "The fact is that we have about half a dozen players that are protesting. We hope and continue to work to try to put that at zero -- that's what we'd like to do."
On Tuesday, a collection of 13 players, union leaders, 11 team owners and NFL executives met to discuss social issues and plans "to promote equality and effectuate positive change." He said discussions about the national anthem played a big role in this week's meetings.
Goodell on Wednesday said the players effectively communicated their reasons for protesting.
"One other issue we spent a great deal of time talking about this morning was how much we believe [that] everyone should stand for the national anthem," Goodell said. "It's also an important part of our game, that we all take great pride in. And it's also for us to honor our flag and our country, and we think our fans expect us to do that. And so that was something we continued to focus on this morning. But really talking a lot about with the opportunity that exists with our players to try to go and really make a difference in our communities in a positive way."
"They're very clear about it. And they're actually incredibly knowledgeable, articulate and they spent the time going into the communities to talk about that," Goodell said. "... They're talking about criminal justice reform, whether it's bail reform. Whether it's talking about mandatory sentencing. They're talking about changes that, I think, will make our communities better -- that there's bipartisan support for and that need focus. They're talking about what we can do to support them to effectuate that legislative change, and that's, again, very, very positive. They're talking about equality issues, making sure we're doing everything we possibly can to give people an opportunity, whether it's an education or economic and what we can do to try to effectuate that. And we believe, with the players, that we can help them, we can support them. And those are our issues, national issues, American issues that are all important."
Goodell also acknowledged the passionate response from many NFL fans around the importance of standing for the anthem.
"I understand where our fans feel about this issue -- and we feel the same way. About the importance of our flag, about the importance of patriotism," Goodell said. "And I believe our players feel that same way. They will state to you, and they have stated to everyone publicly, they are not doing this in any way to be disrespectful to the flag, but they also understand how it's being interpreted, and we're dealing with those underlying issues."
Goodell repeatedly pointed to "the opportunity that exists with our players to try to go and really make a difference in our communities in a positive way," calling those efforts "things that we all believe are necessary to do, and that's what we'll continue to do" moving forward.
"[Our discussions] reflected our commitment to work together with our players on issues of social justice," Goodell said. "I will tell you that our players are men of great character. They have a very deep understanding and tremendous knowledge of the issues that are going on in all of our communities. Their commitment to addressing these issues is really admirable and something that I think our owners looked at as saying 'We want to help you support you. Those are issues that affect us. They're our issues also. We'd like to do it together.'"
In a joint statement released last week by the NFL and NFLPA, both the league and union stated there have been no changes to the current policy regarding the national anthem.
"We respect our country, we respect our flag, respect our national anthem," Goodell said. "When you look at our clubs and what they do on a daily basis, when you look at our players at what they do and how they participate in that -- we all feel very strongly about our country and our pride, and we will continue to do that."