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NFL Players Huddle With Owners Over National Anthem Protests

No deal was reached Tuesday after 11 NFL team owners and representatives of the league's players huddled for more than three hours to try to defuse the controversy roiling pro football over ongoing protests during the national anthem.

But both sides agreed that they had a "productive" meeting about the nagging social issues that have prompted players to kneel during "The Star Spangled Banner" to protest police brutality and the oppression of black people in America.

Image: Anquan Boldin, Malcolm Jenkins and Eric Reid
From left, former NFL player Anquan Boldin, Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers speak to reporters outside NFL headquarters after meetings Tuesday in New York. Richard Drew / AP

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

But come Thursday, when the games resume, it appears likely that the protests will continue.

"I'm not sure we're close to resolution," Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "I think we all have mutual interests. ... But at the same time, we have responsibilities to the communities we live in, to the communities we come from."

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross agreed that the session was "constructive," but he said no agreement was reached.

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

A Timeline of the NFL Protests 1:57

But as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was leaving the meeting, he got an earful from a protester who accused him of treating the players like "$40 million slaves."

Jones, who stoked the controversy last week by threatening to bench any player who was "disrespectful to the flag," listened quietly and did not respond.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the teams in a memo last week that the league would prefer that the players stood during "The Star-Spangled Banner." In a brief appearance after the meeting, during which he took no questions, Goodell said they intend to meet again and called the players "men of great character."

"We spent today talking about the issues that our players have been trying to bring attention to," he said.

The controversy has been roiling the league and dividing fans since when Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the anthem in protest last year. His attorney, Mark Geragos, said Kaepernick had not been invited to attend even though "other players wanted him present."

While the meeting was going on at the Conrad Hotel in Manhattan, dozens of protesters outside carried signs that read "Take A Knee Against Racism" and "White Silence=White Violence." And when a singer belted out the national anthem, they all took a knee.

On Monday, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter to Goodell and the team owners expressing support for the protesting athletes.

"I believe there are individuals in the NFL and elsewhere who believe that police officers should not be able to kill unarmed African Americans with impunity, but who do not think that kneeling during the National Anthem is the right tactic," wrote Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La. "In short, this letter is written to the good guys on the wrong side."

Richmond wrote that "peacefully protesting is one of the most American things any citizen can do" and defended Kaepernick against the harsh criticism that's been leveled against him and the other protesting players by President Donald Trump.

Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning, "The NFL has decided that it will not force players to stand for the playing of our National Anthem. Total disrespect for our great country!"

"He talks the talk and walks the walk," Richmond wrote. "Instead of calling Kaepernick a 'son of a bitch,' President Trump should have called him 'a patriot' because Kaepernick is the truest kind. He is part of a community that embodies and embraces the truest kind of patriotism."