- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The take-a-knee protests may have been the biggest story of the 2017 NFL regular season, but commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that the topic really didn’t come up much at the annual league meeting in Orlando.

Instead, Goodell said that the owners were focused on the $90 million, seven-year social-justice initiative approved unanimously by the 32 teams in a Monday vote.

“That was the vast majority of our conversation over the last couple of days,” Goodell said. “There was some discussion on the anthem but only in the context of, ‘Is this the platform with which to help the players address these issues in their communities and make sure that we’re in a better place?’”

The initiative was launched in reaction to the uproar over players who sat or knelt during the national anthem last season in a protest against racism and social injustice, but the unprecedented agreement contains no requirement for players to stand.

The deal with the Players Coalition includes funding for the Dream Corps, according to ESPN, an advocacy group founded by former Obama administration adviser Van Jones that supports a number of left-wing causes.

Goodell said he was texting with Player Coalition leaders Malcolm Jenkins and Anquan Boldin about how “we now have this unprecedented platform now, let’s go make it more impactful than ever.”

“Let’s focus on making the changes that we all believe in that are so important, that came out of that unprecedented dialogue with our players and owners last year,” Goodell said. “Our players obviously are very passionate about this, our owners are very passionate about it, and I think that’s reflected in the 32-nothing vote.”

The league is expected to revisit the issue at the spring meeting in May.

“This is something we’ll continue to discuss and focus on as we feel it’s needed,” Goodell said.

The 2017 regular season ratings dropped by 9.7 percent, a dive attributed in large part to the protests, which began in 2016 in reaction to outrage over the deaths of black men at the hands of police.

The protests were led during the 2016 regular season by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who filed a grievance last year against the NFL alleging collusion after he went unsigned in 2017.

Looming as the next Kaepernick is free-agent safety Eric Reid, a protest leader with the 49ers in 2017 who has not been picked up by a team since free agency began March 14.

Goodell refused to comment on the Reid situation, saying decisions about player personnel are left up to the teams, adding, “I’m not directly involved in this.”

“I’ve said this repeatedly to you: The 32 teams make their individual decisions about the players that they think are going to best help their franchises,” said Goodell.

The 26-year-old Reid told reporters last week that he isn’t planning to kneel during the anthem in the 2018 season, saying he would “take a different approach on how to be active.”

The protests peaked in late September after President Trump suggested that owners fire players who refuse to stand for the national anthem, prompting nearly 200 players to sit or kneel in Week 3.

By the end of the season, however, fewer than 20 players continued to sit or kneel, most of them with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, and no such protests occurred during the playoffs.


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