- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 17, 2018

NEW YORK — Don’t expect the NFL to institute a national anthem policy this season, if at all.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell emphasized on Wednesday the work teams and players are doing in the community and didn’t say whether the league and the NFLPA are moving closer toward any agreement on the contentious issue.

“The focus of the players’ association, the NFL and all of our clubs and our players is to focus on the efforts our players have continually brought (forth) as their issues in their communities and how can we make our communities better,” Goodell said after the fall meetings concluded.

“They’re incredibly passionate about that. They have brought these issues greater awareness and they are working in their communities to try to make their communities better and they are working on the issues, on criminal justice reform. I’ve been on listen-and-learn tours with our players. Owners have been on listen-and-learn tours. Our players are obviously out there and you see a tremendous amount of work being done.”

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones indicated a policy isn’t forthcoming.

“I think right now we are going forward just as we entered the season,” Jones said.

He added: “One of the owners stood up and said: ‘We have really gotten in a place that’s positive and not that we weren’t, but we benefited from this.’ And, I agree, in relationships and sorting through where we want to go, and I’m so impressed with the social programs that the clubs and the players have engaged in.”

In May, the NFL passed a rule that forbids players from sitting or taking a knee if they are on the field or sidelines during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but allowed them to stay in the locker room if they wish. The league left it up to teams on how to punish players. The union challenged the rule in a grievance.

The league halted the policy in July.

The NFL and a coalition of players have been working in tandem to support player initiatives for a variety of social issues. Last month, coalition members including Malcolm Jenkins, Benjamin Watson, Demario Davis and Chris Long conducted work in the areas of bail reform and criminalization of poverty. Seattle’s Doug Baldwin attended bail hearings and met with grass-roots organizations and the public defender’s office regarding the need to end cash bail in King County on Sept. 25.

Coalition members have focused on voting this month as well as voter restoration rights, plus their ongoing work on bail reform.

“The focus has been on listening, learning, understanding what the players want to accomplish in their community, the impact they want to have and supporting them,” Goodell said. “Our clubs have done that at historic levels and we’ve gone over that the last couple of days. I’m proud of what our clubs are doing. I’m proud of what our players are doing. We’re all working together to try to address those issues, and from my standpoint that always helps make relationships more productive when there’s respect and understanding and agreement to work together to try to make things better.

“When you have people working together and listening to one another and that level of respect, I think everyone feels better and I think that’s important, but the key thing is there’s a lot of work to be done.”

In 2016, then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting police brutality, social injustice and racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem, and the demonstration spread to other players and teams.

Critics led by President Donald Trump called the players unpatriotic and Trump even said NFL owners should fire any player who refused to stand during the anthem. Many players countered that their actions were being misconstrued and that they are seeking social change rather than protesting the anthem itself.

Meanwhile, officiating was not a hot topic in the meetings, Goodell noted.

“There was talk on several occasions in the context of what the competition committee is looking to propose and implement and how to adjust to those rules,” Goodell said.

But there were no formal discussions on the floor during the two-day meetings.

Officiating has been a super-tense issue this season, in part because of several rules changes or points of emphasis, particularly regarding roughing the passer and helmet use in tackling.

Criticism of calls has come from almost everywhere: players, coaches, owners, media and fans. They reached a fevered pitch in September when Clay Matthews drew two flags for roughing the passer and reaction ranged from rage to describing the calls as “textbook tackles.”

Overall, roughing-the-passer calls are down since the competition committee clarified to game officials the techniques used in such hits during a conference call last month. There were 34 roughing calls through the first three weeks and 19 in the three weeks since the call.

“They always want consistency,” Goodell said, “but we will always have calls that are not clear. The focus of trying to protect defenseless players is something very important and we have a tremendous commitment to that.”

Goodell and many owners spoke in glowing terms about the product on the field, stressing the record-setting offenses and close games through six weeks. Goodell also boasted about NFL games being one of the “few contents that are growing” in TV audiences. Ratings are up this year.

“The safety of the game is better and the quality of the game is better,” Goodell said.

He also explained that the removal of a rule barring cross-ownership of sports franchises in different markets could be a boost to the league.

Previously, while an owner could have multi-sport franchises in the same city — the Patriots’ Robert Kraft owns the Revolution in MLS, for example — that was barred beyond the local region.

This change could lead to the likes of, say, a Steve Ballmer, who paid $2 billion for the NBA’s Clippers, looking to own the next NFL franchise that comes onto the market. Or Kraft, for instance, purchasing another sports team outside of New England.

“This has been debated for 38 years,” Goodell said. “It’s about doing everything possible to attract the best ownership and to maintain the quality of ownership in the league.”

The owners also were updated on the stadium situations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but not on where the Raiders might be playing next season. They will be leaving Oakland for Las Vegas for the 2020 season and are in negotiations for a home for 2019.

Goodell said out of respect to the family of Paul Allen that now was not the time to discuss the future ownership of the Seahawks. Allen died on Monday.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones insisted , “I can’t imagine the Seahawks not in Seattle. That hasn’t even been a thought.”

The compensation committee, which approved Goodell’s new contract last year that drew the ire of some owners, went through a change. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was selected, while Clark Hunt of the Chiefs and Bob McNair of the Texans were removed. Also on the committee are New England’s Robert Kraft, Atlanta’s Arthur Blank, Pittsburgh’s Art Rooney, and the Giants’ John Mara.

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