NFL players union to join owners meeting to talk anthem controversy

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- When the NFL owners convene in New York next week and discuss the national anthem controversy that has taken hold of the league, they will be joined by representatives from the players' union.

The league and the NFLPA released a joint statement Wednesday indicating that all parties will be involved when the subject of the national anthem is broached as part of next week's owners meetings.?

"Commissioner Roger Goodell reached out to NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith today and both he and player leadership will attend the League meetings next week," the statement said. "There has been no change in the current policy regarding the anthem. The agenda will be a continuation of how to make progress on the important social issues that players have vocalized. Everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military, and we are coming together to deal with these issues in a civil and constructive way."

That statement came on the heels of a memo from Goodell sent to all 32 teams Tuesday in which he said the league's owners will discuss protests taking place during the anthem at the owners meetings. One potential outcome of those meetings that has been floated was to make all players stand during the anthem.

On Wednesday, Goodell dismissed a claim made earlier in the day by President Donald Trump on his Twitter account that Goodell "is finally demanding that all players stand" for the anthem. Goodell told NFL Network that "there has been no policy change" regarding players standing for the anthem.

Trump, in an interview with Fox News later in the day, said he felt players wouldn't have continued kneeling during the anthem if the NFL had suspended then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last season, when Kaepernick first began kneeling in protest of racial oppression and inequality.

"I watched Colin Kaepernick and I thought it was terrible,'' Trump told Fox News. "And then it got bigger and bigger and started mushrooming. And frankly, the NFL should have suspended him for one game and he would have never done it again. They could have then suspended him for two games and they could have suspended him again if he did it a third time, for the season, and you would never have had a problem."

Trump concluded: "You cannot disrespect our country, our flag, our anthem. You cannot do that."

Earlier this week, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross let their teams know that they will be expected to stand during the anthem.

Players across the league have responded strongly this week to potentially being forced to stand.?

Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib said he'll stand for the anthem regardless of what comes out of next week's meeting.

"I stand anyway," he said. "Taking a knee and all that, that's not going to solve the problem in my eyes. There definitely is a problem out there, but taking a knee and all that -- I stand for people who go to war for us, man. Trump may take us to war again, and those guys are going to go to war for us again, so that's why I'm standing. I appreciate everything those guys do."

Talib, a team captain, was one of the 32 Broncos players who took a knee during the national anthem before the team's Sept. 24 game against the Buffalo Bills. The Broncos players later met, in the days following the game in Buffalo, and chose to announce they would stand as a group for the anthem.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Gerald McCoy, speaking on Adam Schefter's Know Them From Adam podcast, said he thinks there might "be an uproar" if NFL players are forced to stand for the national anthem.

"I don't think guys are gonna like it," McCoy said. "I think it's gonna be an uproar if that is to happen because you're basically taking away a constitutional right to freedom of speech. If guys wanna have a, I guess you would call it a peaceful protest, I don't think it's right to take that away."

In San Francisco, 49ers safety Eric Reid, the team's players' union representative, said he didn't believe the league's owners could unilaterally make such a declaration without negotiating it with the NFLPA.

"As far as I know, that would have to be something that is collectively bargained on," Reid said. "I'm not sure if they can do that, but I guess we'll find out soon. We'll see."

If that did happen, Reid said his conversations with team CEO Jed York have led him to believe that he and his teammates will continue to have the freedom to do what they choose during the national anthem.

"Well, I've talked to Jed, and he's expressed very clearly that he wants to support us, that he's not going to force us to do anything," Reid said. "So, speaking for our team, that's what he's told me explicitly."

Reid and York have been having discussions about demonstrations taking place during the national anthem for more than a year. Reid was the first player to join Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and police brutality in the country.

Reid knelt alongside Kaepernick and linebacker Eli Harold for all of the 2016 season and then resumed the practice after the team's third preseason game this year in Minnesota after the racially charged events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia.

After Trump's criticism of NFL player protests on Sept. 22 and the days that followed, most NFL teams released statements in response and attempted various shows of "unity" before or during the national anthem of that week's games.

York has backed the 49ers since Kaepernick's protest first became public knowledge. He matched Kaepernick's $1 million donation to local communities in need, and in a statement that came after Trump's comments last month, he referred to the president's comments as "callous and offensive."

Reid noted a change in tone from the NFL on protests during the national anthem after the various displays of unity.

"I was hoping that it wasn't, but I did sense that," Reid said. "They said that it was going to be a one-week thing when they did it, so yeah, I expected it."

ESPN's Jeff Legwold and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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