Roger Goodell: Didn't ask players, owners to change national anthem policy

Jenkins: Owners, players 'working together to create change' (0:50)

Malcolm Jenkins says the meeting between NFL owners and players was held to discuss issues of injustice and that they are working to create change. (0:50)

NEW YORK -- After meeting with owners and players Tuesday concerning social issues, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league did not ask for any changes to the policy on the national anthem.

"We did not ask for it," Goodell said. "We spent today talking about the issues players are trying to bring attention to. Issues in our communities, to make our communities better."

That policy states that the players "should" stand for the anthem, and some have suggested the league would seek to change that to "must" stand. Goodell said in a memo to teams last week that the NFL prefers for players to stand during "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The commissioner on Tuesday called the discussion with the players "very productive" and "important" and said it "reflected our commitment to work together on issues of social justice."

He commended the players for their "great character" and a "deep understanding" of the issues in their communities. He said their commitment is "admirable" and the owners want to help them.

Goodell said the players and owners will meet again sometime in the next two weeks, and the owners meetings will resume Wednesday with more discussion about the national anthem.

Many of the NFL players and owners in attendance Tuesday came away thinking the meeting was beneficial.

Indianapolis Colts defensive back Darius Butler said the most important thing was for the league and owners to hear the players' perspective.

"Obviously it's a different perspective," he said. "I think that's the most important thing when it comes to these issues, perspective and respect everyone's right regardless of how they feel. Whether it is peacefully protesting or speaking on these issues, I think it's important to respect everyone."

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross also called the session "constructive."

"We heard what they had to say and they heard us," Ross said. "It's open talks and that's a good thing."

On hand at the meeting were Goodell and the league's football operations chief, former player Troy Vincent; and owners Michael Bidwill (Arizona), Arthur Blank (Atlanta), Terry Pegula (Buffalo), Robert McNair (Houston), Shad Khan (Jacksonville), Ross, Robert Kraft (New England), John Mara (New York Giants), Art Rooney (Pittsburgh), Jeffrey Lurie (Philadelphia) and Jed York (San Francisco).

Representing the players were NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and president Eric Winston; former player Anquan Boldin; and current players Butler; Reid; Russell Okung (Los Angeles Chargers); Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas and Michael Thomas (Miami); Mark Herzlich (New York Giants); Kelvin Beachum and Demario Davis (New York Jets); Jenkins and Chris Long (Philadelphia); and Josh Norman (Washington).

Sources familiar with the players' thinking told ESPN's Dan Graziano that they went into the meeting skeptical. The level of trust between owners and players has been low in recent years, as the sides have waged court battles over the personal conduct policy and the players have spurned the owners' efforts to open negotiations on an extension to the collective bargaining agreement. Goodell and Smith have rarely met face-to-face over the past three years, people familiar with the relationship say, and relations had reached a point where people on both sides wondered whether there'd ever be common ground for future negotiations.

Yet this has done some thawing between the sides.

Goodell and Smith were in the same room for hours Tuesday, the commissioner having conveyed a sufficiently open league mind on the topic du jour and Smith having positioned his union as a consolidating force for getting and holding the attention of the league and its owners in a way players might find productive. It was more than symbolic, one source said, that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was not among the 11 owners in attendance at the midtown morning meeting, as his recent comments on the issue of anthem demonstrations have been viewed by people on both sides as raising the noise level and making it harder to do the actual work at hand.

"The best outcome," a source familiar with the content of the meeting said, "would be to give players a reason NOT to kneel."

"Jerry's name wasn't brought up," York said. "I understand why somebody who's dealing with this issue for the first time might have a visceral reaction. I went through this last year. But it's important that we understand and that people understand that our players are not trying to be disrespectful to the flag or disrespectful to their country. They're trying to bring awareness to issues that people who look like me don't understand. And I hope people will give the owners the benefit of the doubt that it takes time to get up to speed on these issues. We aren't there yet, but we are getting there."

Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is credited for starting the movement by kneeling during the national anthem, was invited but did not attend the meeting, according to Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins said he did not know why.

Kaepernick's lawyer, Mark Geragos, issued a statement clarifying the invitation.

"Colin Kaepernick was not invited to attend today's meeting by any official from the NFL or any team executives," he said. "Other players wanted him present and have asked that he attend the next meeting with the goal of forging a lasting and faithful consensus around these issues. Mr. Kaepernick is open to future participation on these important discussions."

Said 49ers safety Eric Reid to TheMMQB.com: "I did bring up in the meeting how this started with [Kaepernick], and we need to get the messaging straight surrounding him. They heard me, and they agreed."

Ross said the NFL's policy on the national anthem "did not come up," and Butler said he doesn't think there will be any change in the rules regarding the anthem in the near future.

"It's ongoing, it's not going to be a resolution overnight," Butler said. "Obviously these are issues important to the players. That's what we talked about and some things going forward."

Butler saw the meeting as a good step.

"I'm happy about it and I think it will be even more positive going forward," he said.

That doesn't mean players taking a knee will stop.

"It's going to be an individual choice," Butler said. "I think the ownership, the team, the league and the players, I think are all going in the right direction."

Reid told TheMMQB.com that the meetings were "a starting point" and he would continue to kneel for the national anthem.

"This is a long-term project, if you want to call it that," Reid said. "There wasn't much that was going to happen in a two-hour meeting. We are going to continue to meet, continue to have dialogue and figure out a way to get these issues on track.

"We started [kneeling] to raise awareness and to effectuate change. We're on the path to make the change we think we can make; we are just not there yet."

The players' union and the league issued a joint statement just before the annual fall owners meetings began.

"Today owners and players had a productive meeting focused on how we can work together to promote positive social change and address inequality in our communities," the statement said. "NFL executives and owners joined NFLPA executives and player leaders to review and discuss plans to utilize our platform to promote equality and effectuate positive change. We agreed that these are common issues and pledged to meet again to continue this work together.

"As we said last week, everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military. In the best American tradition, we are coming together to find common ground and commit to the hard work required for positive change."

Jenkins, who has been at the center of the movement to call attention to social issues, said the meeting was collaborative.

"This was the first time we have gotten the chance to sit down in front of ownership," Jenkins said. "We felt they were receptive. We felt there was a real dialogue. We felt it was positive."

After the players meeting Tuesday, Goodell and his staff made a presentation at the NFL owners meeting similar to the one made earlier to the players in an attempt to resolve the national anthem demonstration issue, a senior NFL official told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio.

The official told ESPN that the players and owners have agreed to meet again soon to hammer out specific steps and actions that can be taken jointly to resolve the issue.

The anthem presentation was just one item on the agenda, and the owners eventually moved on to other issues.

Earlier, outside of the hotel where the owners are meeting, two dozen supporters of Black Lives Matter New York held a rally backing the players for speaking out -- particularly Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem last year in protest of racial injustice in America. Demonstrations during the anthem increased earlier this season when President Donald Trump called the players unpatriotic if they knelt during the anthem, with both players and league executives saying the meaning of the protests has been misconstrued by the president and his supporters.

President Trump again tweeted Wednesday that NFL players should be made to stand for the national anthem.

At a game earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium after several 49ers knelt during the anthem.

Also Tuesday, the Cowboys' Jones was confronted by two people in the lobby of the Manhattan hotel where the owners are meeting. The protesters shouted at him about white supremacy while Jones was surrounded by bodyguards. Jones stopped to listen but said nothing, and the protesters were peacefully led away.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.