The National Football League will tackle criticism from President Donald Trump over players who protest racial discrimination by kneeling during the U.S. national anthem when league officials gather with team owners in New York for their autumn meeting this week.
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Trump has continued to rail at the symbolic kneeling, which has only become more widespread since his first comments last month, saying as recently as Monday that players who do so should be suspended for insulting the country.
“And the NFL should suspended some of these players for one game,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday. “And then if they did it again, it could be two games and then three games and then for the season. You wouldn’t have people disrespect our country right now.”
But an outright ban on the practice may not come soon, if at all, NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters on a conference call on Monday ahead of the two-day meeting starting Tuesday of team owners, players and their union’s leaders at a Manhattan hotel.
“I anticipate a very productive presentation of things we can do to work together,” Lockhart said. “Beyond that I don’t anticipate anything else.”
The league was more inclined to seek a compromise that recognized the players’ concerns rather than to compel them to stand during pregame renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” he said.
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Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started a polarizing national debate last year after refusing to stand during the national anthem. He initially sat during the anthem, then began going down on one knee.
The kneeling gesture has since been emulated by others in the league – where the majority of players are black – who share his anger at police killings of unarmed black men and boys across the United States and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
In a memo sent to teams last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league had been working with owners and players to promote the players’ political concerns.
Kaepernick, who has still not been signed by any of the league’s 32 teams through the first six weeks of the NFL’s 2017 season, said on Sunday he has filed a grievance against the league’s team owners.
The filing says both the NFL and its owners colluded to deny Kaepernick a job in retaliation for his leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Christian Radnedge)