Players’ union and NFL meet as anthem debate spills into Texas Senate race
Beto O'Rourke speaks at the Texas Democratic Convention in Fort Worth, Texas, in June 2018. His defense of NFL players' right to kneel during the anthem has drawn fire from Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. | Richard W. Rodriguez / AP

Representatives from the NFL Players Association and of the NFL gathered in New York to continue discussions over football’s national anthem policy.

The meeting included players and owners, along with league and union officials, and comes as the regular season nears. It is not clear whether the two sides will reach a mutual agreement before the September 6 season-opener in Philadelphia between the Eagles and Atlanta Falcons, though at this time it seems unlikely.

Sources close to the discussions say owners have remained interested in having the players stand for the anthem before games. Some player union reps have said that players would prefer a return to the anthem policy in place before May’s change, which encouraged players to stand for the anthem but did not require it.

Russel Okung, Los Angeles Chargers offensive lineman, took to Twitter to discuss his participation in the meeting.

“I’m looking forward to today’s meeting in NYC,” he wrote. “I believe this face-to-face conversation is pivotal and will determine if meaningful progress will be made. Critically, I hope we can stop avoiding the conversation that Beto O’Rourke so eloquently encouraged us to have.

“Imagine if the NFL’s first response to Kaepernick’s protest acknowledged the phenomenon that was unfolding was ‘a very tough issue’ that if we don’t talk about, will not get any better,” Okung continued. “We don’t have to accept the epidemic of unarmed black humans being murdered. We don’t have to accept the narrative that ‘players are protesting the anthem’ (CBS). We don’t have to accept the fact that Kaepernick and Reid are not on a roster despite their proven talent.”

Okung referenced the fiery defense of players’ right to protest by Texas Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke.

O’Rourke’s defense of activism was apparently so “threatening” and “immoral” that Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is now taking aim at his opponent’s comments in a new campaign ad.

“That is the view that is markedly out of step with the vast majority of Texans,” Cruz said at a Monday press conference, following a Dallas-area rally where the ad was debuted. “We need to be respectfully of our active duty military. We need to be respectful of our veterans. We need to be respectful of law enforcement as well.”

The ad takes a hatchet to O’Rourke’s full statement on the protest and sticks to the basic Republican talking points: Liberal Hollywood and anti-Americanism on the left; God, country, and patriotic service on the right.

After the meeting ended, the NFLPA released a statement saying: “Today, we continued our productive dialogue on the issues that players have raised awareness about, and we remain committed to working together on solutions. In the spirit of our ongoing collaboration and progress, we will continue the confidentiality of our discussions.”

At the start of this year’s preseason, some players have continued to protest. Others have stayed off the field in the locker room. With the NFL anthem policy on hold as a solution is sought, NFL officials have restated their preference that players stand, but says they will not penalize or fine players for protesting.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.