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The NFL is totally happy about its players speaking their minds—as long as it doesn’t hurt the NFL.
That’s the gist of the letter sent by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday, in which he officially announced that the league will be considering a proposal that would prevent players from keeling during the national anthem.
“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,” Goodell wrote in the letter, which was published by ESPN reporter Adam Schefter.
“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.”
Goodell then wrote that the league will be considering “a plan” at a meeting set for next week.
“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,” Goodell wrote.
The letter comes after player protests grew in the past weeks since Donald Trump launched an attack on socially conscious athletes. Many owners have participated in some ways, but a growing distaste for the protests and controversy is evident. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones briefly kneeled with his team a couple weeks ago. Now, he’s reportedly said he’ll bench any players that kneel during the anthem.
An NFL spokesperson confirmed the letter as authentic.
The NFL is well within its rights to make a rule requiring players to stand during the anthem, or instituting some other rule against anthem-based protests. The NBA has just such a rule.
Goodell’s letter makes it clear that the NFL—and as commissioner he works on behalf of the owners to keep the league profitable and powerful—isn’t thrilled with what the protest controversy has resulted in.
“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,” he wrote.
Protests during the national anthem at NFL games has been a running storyline since 2016, when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt to bring attention to police brutality perpetrated against black people. That inspired a relatively small group of other players to do the same, sparking some debate about the issue as well as the appropriateness of protests.
The issue remained relatively limited until Trump weighed in. His statements immediately sparked a response from NFL players, and made the next week’s games—and particularly its anthems—must-see TV.
Trump and his administration haven’t been shy about keeping the controversy going. Vice President Mike Pence attended a game between the 49ers and Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, only to leave after some players knelt during the national anthem. Indications are that Pence’s exit was a planned stunt.