NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a message to every team in the league Tuesday saying everyone should stand for the national anthem.
In an email addressed to NFL executives, Goodell praised the players and teams for their willingness to engage in dialogue, but said anthem protests have become a barrier to conversation, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports.
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"The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues," Goodell wrote. "We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players."
Goodell said the NFL is aligning with "many" of its fans in its belief that everyone should stand during the playing of the national anthem. Fan outcry over the anthem has roiled the league in recent weeks, culminating in Vice President Mike Pence leaving the Indianapolis Colts game immediately after the playing of the national anthem on Sunday.
"Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem," Goodell wrote. "It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us."
Pence made it clear he expected exactly that on Sunday, leaving the stadium when San Francisco 49ers players kneeled during the anthem. In a series of tweets later that day, he explained in detail why he would not dignify an event where people disrespected the United States. President Donald Trump also chimed in on Twitter, voicing his support.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, considered a key leader in the league, had said he expected his players to stand for the anthem if they wanted to play.
ESPN’s Jemele Hill called for a boycott of Cowboys’ advertisers on Sunday following Jones’ denunciation of the protests. Her tweet, which came after another controversial tweet directed at the president in September, caused ESPN to suspend Hill for violating company social media policy. Trump took her suspension as an opportunity to say ESPN's ratings have "tanked" while she has hosted SportsCenter. Hill's previous tweet referred to Trump and his supporters as white supremacists.
Now Goodell is looking to coalesce teams around a policy of standing as reports have emerged that the protests are damaging the NFL's TV ratings. Goodell put emphasis on unity in the very beginning of the email, saying it was important not just for teams, but also for the league’s fan base. Many fans have said the protests were damaging the NFL’s unique ability to unify people of different backgrounds.
"We live in a country that can feel very divided. Sports, and especially the NFL, brings people together and lets them set aside those divisions, at least for a few hours," Goodell wrote. "The current dispute over the National Anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country."