Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam attended an NFL summit led by commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday night that was centered on the national anthem protest debate.
According to Dan Duggan of NJ.com, notable team and league figures also present at the meeting included New York Giants co-owner John Mara, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, and NFL executive Troy Vincent.
Players who attended included Eagles defensive end Chris Long, Patriots receiver Matthew Slater, Browns cornerback Jason McCourty and linebacker Christian Kirksey, and Giants team captain Jonathan Casillas.
Casillas said the the meeting was held to discuss how the league should approach the “whole kneeling situation” in the aftermath of last weekend’s show-of-force demonstration by players in response to criticism by President Donald Trump.
While he arranged the forum, it sounds like Goodell didn’t end up playing much of a role in the round-table discussion.
"[Goodell] was kind of letting the owners and us talk more than anything,” Casillas said. “I know the owners, for sure, don't want us kneeling.”
Casillas added that the message wasn’t a problem for owners, but the public perception of the entire situation is what’s giving them pause.
It’s not hard to understand why owners don’t want their players kneeling during the anthem, there’s a lot of reasons. But they still support their players it seems, despite their actions potentially affecting their business. Last weekend, many of them issued stern statements in defiance of Trump and in support of their players’ right of expression.
Which brings the league and the country to somewhat of a crossroads in Week 4, and it’s clear they acknowledge that fact in Goodell’s decision to assemble that group.
"The meetings I've had, the talks I've had, it's like, 'All right, maybe we shouldn't focus on the flag and the kneeling,'“ Casillas said of the context of meetings he’s had, not strictly concerning the specific meeting with Goodell on Tuesday night.
Instead, he suggested the league reshapes the conversation by highlighting the heavy amount of player involvement in community projects and outreach. Highlighting those kinds of things are great for publicity and easing tensions arising from this hotly-debated issue, but that accomplishes nothing in terms of satisfying players’ reasons for protesting.
So, where does the league go from here? Will players continue to protest in large numbers, or will they relent some in the coming weeks? Will they alter their approach, kneeling before or after the anthem instead of during it? Maybe they will alter it in a different way, as we have already seen players locking arms in solidarity with their teammates, or placing their hands on their kneeling teammates’ shoulders, yet still standing for the playing of the anthem. There are a lot of questions, and a lot of opinions on how and what should happen from here.
The immediate question for the Browns is whether they’ll continue to protest en masse as they did earlier this year, and again after Trump’s comments. It’s clear there is a strong commitment to the protest’s message in their locker room, so it’s likely they’ll remain a focal point of this conversation for the foreseeable future.
While we’re not going to predict how the Browns will respond to these talks and heightened public criticism—and even boycott threats—because of their involvement, the team did change course once already, standing for the anthem just days later after a significant number of players huddled together and kneeled during the anthem.
From what this polarizing debate has taught us so far, and probably the only thing we know for sure, it’s that whatever happens, there’ll probably be someone upset because of it.