ATLANTA – On the first day of the NFL’s annual spring meetings Tuesday, a day when 31 of the league’s 32 owners chose silence or near-silence on the league’s topic du jour — the national anthem debate — Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones held court for nearly 15 minutes at the Whitley Hotel and gave the closest thing to an update anyone would dare provide.
“I can assure you, the issue’s getting the very best of every owner … with an eye first and foremost on our fans,” Jones said. “We know our fans want us to zero in on football, and don’t want to think about — or think we’re thinking about — anything other than football.
“That’s certainly my take of the spirit of the room.”
Jones repeated variations of that take, the tacit understanding being his — and several other owners’ — belief that fans are weary of seeing the ongoing protests about police brutality and social injustice during the anthem. The spectacle has contributed to the overall way politics has crept into football over the past few years, with many standing by the players’ right to demonstrate and others condemning their actions as disrespectful to the flag.
“I’m not trying to diminish issues of rights here, but the No. 1 thing is our fans, and I know our fans want us to zero in on the game, zero in on football,” Jones said. “They want to come to the game and get away from a lot of the other issues that are out here.
“So from my standpoint, I’m trying to figure out the very best way so that when somebody thinks NFL, they’re thinking about who’s starting at quarterback and who’s going to come out hot in the third quarter. We’ve got to make sure that whatever we decide here, it’s oriented toward getting our minds on what’s going on on the football field.”
There are some ways to do that, and, boy, were some options discussed.
In one proposal that surfaced — which was subsequently confirmed by Yahoo Sports — the league would allow the home team to decide whether teams stand on the field for the anthem, with teams then potentially being assessed a 15-yard penalty for kneeling.
The idea was widely panned by the public on social media, and internally there appeared to be little momentum for that option, at least by the end of Tuesday.
Jones refused to speak on it directly.
“I can’t speak to any reports,” Jones said. “You had discussion in many areas, but there was nothing resolved as to a game-type penalty.”
And when asked if discussed proposals could be characterized as “creative,” Jones remained steadfast in his belief there’s no simple solution.
“I don’t know that I heard any new ideas there at all, which doesn’t mean they’re not good ideas, but there’s no reinventing the wheel here — it’s pretty straightforward,” Jones said. “I didn’t hear anybody that had the answer. I’ll tell you that.”
One answer, at least on the surface, would be to institute a rule that mandates players stand for the anthem, similar to the NBA.
Jones, however, bristled at that suggestion.
“It’s not that easy — we’ve got a lot of things we’re trying to balance,” Jones said. “We recognize, with our visibility and interest in our league, that this has taken a life of its own. We ask the world, ‘Don’t turn your head — look at us.’ So when we’ve got some issues we got to work through, we’ve got to realize that we’ve asked you to look now, so let’s do what we can do [to fix it].”
The owners have another day to hammer out a resolution, as the meetings close Wednesday. New York Giants co-owner John Mara expects one, the NFL Network reported. Jones couldn’t promise the issue will be closed, but he did say there’s a chance.
“I think there’s certainly a resolve [to do so],” Jones said.
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• Report: NFL proposes rule change, penalty for kneeling