Arthur Blank expects agreement on NFL players standing for anthem

The first day of the NFL owners meetings did not pass without some modicum of progress.

The league approved hedge-fund billionaire David Tepper as the Carolina Panthers’ new owner, therefore officially vaporizing sexual and racial dinosaur Jerry Richardson, who arrived and departed the owners’ meetings at a Buckhead hotel more quietly and more stealthily than most creatures from the Jurassic period.

If only resolving the anthem issue was so easy.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday that owners spent “probably an hour and a half” discussing the issue of how to deal with players who choose to kneel for the national anthem, with a representative from all 32 teams speaking.

But Blank, who has been among the faction of socially conscious owners who support the players’ right to exercise their First Amendment rights, nonetheless reiterated that he thinks players should stand for the anthem. He also believes the NFL will adopt a policy stating that “in the near future.”

But he added that an agreement “probably won’t be tomorrow,” when the two-day meetings wrap up Wednesday. Conversely, New York Giants owner Tim Mara said he expects a resolution Wednesday, according to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

“I think the NFL will make it clear that (standing for the anthem) is their desire, and the reason I would feel strongly about that on this club, and I would feel very disappointed (if a player protested), is we’re working together on a lot of stuff to address the issues. The issues haven’t been resolved, but the goal has been achieved and that’s to work together to find solutions. But it will take time.”

The anthem issue became a flash point for more divisive comments from President Donald Trump, who during a speech in Alabama in September criticized the NFL for allowing Colin Kaepernick and other players to protest social injustices and police brutality during the “Star Spangled Banner.”

Trump, pandering to his base, went as far to use an expletive to describe any protester.

Once again, sports and politics had intersected.

NFL owners and players responded loudly and in unison, criticizing Trump. Week 3 of the NFL season turned into a coast-to-coast protest, all inside football stadiums. Several owners and players locked arms before games. Some kneeled. Some exhibited other forms of protest.

The Falcons were in Detroit, when Blank, standing in the end zone in Ford Field before the game, went off.

“The people who fought for this country going back several hundred years primarily weren’t fighting for geography,” he said. “They were fighting for a way of life, principles and values, and part of that is reflected in freedom of speech and to have the ability to speak … on issues and (have) thoughtful and positive discussions that are based on inclusiveness, not divisiveness. It’s unfortunate that the president chose to go in that direction and speak out the way he has. That kind of divisiveness and calling out accomplishes nothing, satisfies nothing.”

It’s a polarizing issue. I get that. Many perceive kneeling or any kind of protest during the national anthem as un-patriotic and/or some sort of attack on our military. But to assume that viewpoint ignores the actual reason most are protesting, from cases of racial injustices to police brutality to violations of civil rights.

It’s no different today than it was when John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists during the U.S. anthem on the Olympic medals stand, or Muhammad Ali spoke out against the war in Vietnam, or Branch Rickey and Arthur Ashe and so many others went against the grain.

You may view a silent protest as un-American. I view it as dignified and wholly American. It makes people feel uncomfortable. But so do all protests, don't they?

Blank believes the focus now should not be on the anthem policy itself but the conversation about the issues.

“The good news is I think there’s a great connection between the players and owners, emotionally and spiritually, on issues. The reason for them to protest is really behind them, I think, even if the issues aren’t behind. The collaboration is there. The players and owners are working together on the issues that are the reason for protests. We’ll deal with the other stuff. Players have expressed themselves and the owners are listening."

The debate among owners Tuesday included a number of ideas. Blank confirmed one owner suggested the possibility of home teams deciding whether players should be on the field or in the locker room during the anthem, therefore eliminating the issue. Another possibility was a 15-yard penalty against a team if a player kneels.

Blank opposed both ideas.

“Those were two ideas and there were other offshoots of those,” Blank said. “I’m not sure the whole penalty thing works for me. I don’t feel good about that.”

The home-team decision idea is equally nonsensical. What’s next: alternating must-stand-for-the-anthem weeks -- like water rationing?

“This is still a work in progress,” Blank said.

“This is a complex issue, but from what I heard there’s a lot to feel good about it because we’re working together. We’re in alignment on acknowledging the social issues. There’s a partnership.”

There’s also a problem, and it needs to be fixed.

Listen to the, "We Never Played The Game" podcast. Check out the podcast show page at Subscribe on iTunes. Also on Google play. Also via Stitcher or via TuneIn, or via the AJC sports podcasts, or the WSB Radio on-demand page.