NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated Oct. 18 that the league has a clear stance on the issue of players protesting during the national anthem.
"We just had two days of conversations with our owners of which this was a fair amount of the conversation and I think our clubs all see this the same way," Goodell said, according to USA Today. "We want our players to stand. We're going to continue to encourage them to stand."
Goodell also stated that he wants the league "to stay out of politics." He said that with regard to the number of protesters, the NFL's goal is "to put that at zero."
Goodell refused to confirm whether teams had left the meeting with the understanding that players would not be disciplined for joining the protests.
"We didn't discuss that," said Goodell. "It wasn't necessary. We had a real focus on making sure all of our teams understood the kind of dialogue that took place and the kind of things that they were interested in getting support. And they were seeking support for the NFL, each club supporting its players and continuing the dialogue that they have had at the club level. I would tell you this, it's unprecedented conversations and dialogue going on between our players and our owners, between our club officials and between our league, and that is a really positive change for us."
One week earlier, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stated that any player seen "being disrespectful to the flag" would be left on the sidelines.
President Donald Trump has been urging the NFL to change its rules to force players to stand. However, New York Giants co-owner John Mara said that no vote was taken on this issue at the recent meeting of owners.
Trump's statements, including an appeal in September for owners to fire players who refuse to stand, prompted opposition within Congress. Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas took a knee on the floor of the House during a speech criticizing the president.
"That is racism," said Jackson Lee, according to The Washington Post. "You cannot deny it."
She also argued that players have a right to protest.
"There is no basis in the First Amendment that says you cannot kneel on the national anthem or in front of the flag," she said. "There is no regulation that says these young men cannot stand against the dishonoring of their mothers."
"I kneel in honor of them," she added. "I kneel because the flag is a symbol of freedom. I kneel because I am going to stand against racism."