NFL coaches on potential changes to anthem policy
Raiders’ Jon Gruden says he’s surprised Colin Kaepernick is not in camp but he ‘probably will be soon’
ORLANDO, Florida – A major change in the NFL’s anthem policy is likely coming soon.
Alarmed about fan backlash after players protested against racial injustice during The Star-Spangled Banner the past two seasons, owners have discussed the anthem policy during league meetings here. At the May meeting in Atlanta, they’re expected to vote on proposals that would prevent players from continuing to demonstrate on the sidelines before games.
One proposal with momentum, league sources have said, is to add wording to the game operations manual that would prohibit teams from being on the field while the song is being performed. Under the current rule, players are not required to stand for the anthem.
Obviously, NFL head coaches will be watching closely as owners determine a path forward. Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden would prefer the focus to return to the field.
Gruden is back in coaching after working as an ESPN analyst, while former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ignited a movement the past two seasons by sitting and then kneeling to draw attention to issues such as policing in black and brown communities. Although Gruden acknowledges that “there’s a lot of issues out there, certainly, for everybody, hopefully we can all unite on game day and just go play football.”
Gruden, speaking during the coaches’ breakfast, also discussed Kaepernick being out of football since he opted out of his contract with the 49ers in 2017.
“I think there’s a lot of intrigue there,” Gruden said. “His performance on the field wasn’t very good, on tape. I think, Robert Griffin, a Rookie of the Year, [I’m] surprised he’s out there. Tim Tebow takes a team to the playoffs, there’s some surprise that he never came back. You know, Johnny Manziel, he’s out there.
“Back to Kaepernick, he got beat out by [Blaine] Gabbert to start the  season. I think that says something. [But] I am surprised he’s not in camp with somebody. He probably will be soon.”
Kaepernick was recovering from surgeries on his right thumb, left knee and left shoulder when Gabbert moved ahead of him on the depth chart. Kaepernick reclaimed the starting job in Week 6.
If changes in the anthem policy occur, San Diego Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn will encourage players to do more in communities.
“What teams have to do is build platforms for the guys to go out and express themselves, because they’re still going to express themselves,” Lynn said. “They have to have platforms to do that, and we have to invest in that. We have to figure out ways where they can make a difference in their communities and our society.”
The Cincinnati Bengals were not among the teams actively participating in the protest movement — until President Donald Trump blasted NFL players during a political rally for kneeling during the anthem. Along with the rest of the league, the Bengals demonstrated after Trump’s incendiary comments.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is comfortable with any new guidelines “from a league standpoint. We’ll go along with it,” he said. “But I don’t have to have a voice in it [trying to control players]. They understand what I’m about.”
In dueling comments as the meetings kicked off Sunday, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair and New York Jets acting owner Christopher Johnson articulated opposing viewpoints on the divisive issue. Players, who are overwhelmingly African-American, have used their platform to peacefully shine a light on racial injustice.
“We’re going to deal with it in such a way that people will understand we want everybody to respect our country, respect our flag,” McNair said.
Conversely, Johnson believes that “trying to forcibly get the players to shut up is a fantastically bad idea.” Johnson added he would be opposed to keeping players off the field until after the anthem. “That’s a particularly bad idea,” he said.
Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson, in only his second season, guided the Eagles to their first Super Bowl championship while also leading the league’s most socially conscious team. Key members of the Eagles demonstrated on the sideline, publicly supported incarcerated rapper Meek Mill and pushed for criminal justice reform. And yet, somehow, the Eagles thrived.
“They were able to keep the two separate,” Pederson said. “I encouraged our team to get involved where and when they can. We had some great activists in Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long, Torrey Smith. And we had some other guys that kind of got involved in their causes. That’s something that our players have really embraced.
“They’ve taken it to the next level. They’re actively pursuing causes, and I’m a big supporter as long as it doesn’t interfere with their job on the field. You gotta separate the two, obviously. They do a great job with that. That’s something I’ll continue to encourage.”