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Protesters stand down as NFL unites for Veterans Day, but some players still want meeting with owners

How important is face-to-face dialogue? It depends on whom you ask

With the NFL having celebrated Veterans Day weekend by honoring the military, only a handful of players were observed protesting Sunday during the national anthem. The NFL Players Association requested that its members observe a two-minute moment of silence before games to honor those who have served in the U.S. military. Even Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, an outspoken leader in the players’ efforts to shine a light on racial injustice, stood Thursday while “The Star-Spangled Banner” played before the Seahawks-Arizona Cardinals game.

Since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ignited the movement last season by first sitting and then kneeling during the anthem, players have maintained that they’re not intentionally being disrespectful to the military and veterans. The NFLPA unanimously passed its resolution for this week’s games. Meanwhile, work on the divisive issue of protests during the anthem continues, though not necessarily in the manner that some activist-players would prefer.

Although some players are eager to resume face-to-face meetings with owners and high-ranking league executives, that part of the process has been stalled for weeks, two players familiar with the process said. A major hurdle to scheduling another sit-down is that players would prefer to have legal representation at future meetings. Owners have pushed back against having a formal process with additional people in the mix.

After NFLPA representatives attended the first meeting in New York, 49ers safety Eric Reid proposed mediation in an effort to bring the sides together. The commissioner’s office, however, doesn’t “see the need for a third-party formal mediator,” Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications and public affairs, said last week on a conference call with reporters. “The strength of the discussions going on between the players, the owners and the commissioner has been they’ve been direct. There have been many of them face-to-face, on [conference calls], texts back and forth. There is real strength there.”

Concerned about fan backlash resulting in the uneasiness of the league’s corporate sponsors, commissioner Roger Goodell and the billionaires whom he serves want players to stand respectfully during the anthem. Players want the NFL to partner with them in addressing issues critical to the African-American community, most notably criminal justice reform.

After the initial meeting in New York, Goodell, owners and players expressed optimism about the process, and things seemed to be progressing. But a series of events — the revelation of a comment made by Houston Texans owner Bob McNair about the volatile situation, the players’ desire to have owners engage in mediation and, possibly, the potential involvement of Kaepernick in talks — has created an environment unfavorable to another sit-down.

Dialogue, however, has continued the past few weeks. For its part, the league office wouldn’t characterize the process as being stalled.

“There’s been a lot of discussion back and forth in the past seven to 10 days … ideas being exchanged,” Lockhart said. “Right now, I think both sides think that that’s productive and it’s moving things forward. There’s not an imminent need to do a face-to-face meeting. That’s certainly our point of view.”

Only so much movement can occur without the sides seated at the same table, the two players said, although the league believes much can be accomplished by just keeping the lines of communication open.

“Too much emphasis is put on the face-to-face meetings,” Lockhart said. “Particularly in the last week, we’ve had very productive conversations. There are leaders within the NFL [Players Association] who’ve been involved.

“There have been leaders in the Players Coalition that have been involved. We’re talking to a number of player leaders around the country. I can’t formally speak for everyone, but, from our perspective, the communication has been … very good. … I think we are making progress.”

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.