Three Dolphins players discuss national anthem, meeting with Roger Goodell

Roger Goodell joined Dolphins players for their event with the North Miami Police Department on Tuesday. (Miami Dolphins)

DAVIE—Roger Goodell did not come to South Florida to insist that Dolphins players stand for the national anthem.

In joining Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas and Michael Thomas for an event with the North Miami Police Department on Tuesday, he had good dialogue with three players who have been kneeling in their protest against racial inequality in this country.

Stills said Goodell made no demands about the anthem. They chatted for “a couple of minutes here and there” throughout the day, which included a ride-along, and it meant something to Stills to see him take a genuine interest in their community outreach.

“Honestly, he was proud of us for putting on what we were putting on and happy that he could spend some time with us,” he said today. “I didn’t expect him to be there. It was nice of him to take some time out of his day to make it and see what we were doing.”

The sense from Thomas and Thomas was that Goodell is interested in helping lead a joint initiative with players, owners and the league to work toward the societal changes for which the players have been pushing.

Michael Thomas declined to give specifics on what that program would entail, but it is likely to be discussed at next week’s league meeting. Players have been invited to attend.

“With the solution that’s going to come out very soon as the players have been working with the P.A., the league, the owners, I think everybody’s gonna see it wasn’t just a blind stance,” Michael Thomas said. “We were working toward a solution this whole time.”

He added, “I think it’s going to be a positive step in the right direction. It’s not the end-all solution, but it’s going to be a positive step in the right direction that we were able to actually do something.”

Goodell’s visit comes at a time when the league is highly conscious of players demonstrating during the anthem and growing concerns that it will impact their business. Donald Trump has heightened that tension by taking aim at players who protest, going as far as to call anyone who kneels during the anthem “a son of a bitch” who should be fired.

Trump’s pressure appears to have made at least a little headway with the Dolphins’ organization. Dating back to last season, Miami has been one of the most prominent teams when it comes to protesting and owner Stephen Ross has repeatedly supported the players. Last weekend, though, he said it was “incumbent upon the players…to stand and salute the flag,” at least in part because Trump is trying to make it an issue of patriotism.

Interestingly, it was revealed hours later that coach Adam Gase had instituted a new policy stating players must stand or stay in the locker room. Stills, Thomas and Thomas did not take the field for the anthem before Sunday’s game against the Titans. Stills indicated he will do that again this Sunday at Atlanta.

Gase has declined twice to give an explanation for the rule, saying only that it was his decision and players are on board with it. Prior to last weekend, he had barely said anything on the topic other than backing the players’ freedom of expression.

“There’s nothing that says they can’t do that,” he said in September 2016 when asked if he’d discourage his players from demonstrating. “Our guys in our locker room, if they have certain stances they stand behind, then it’s not my right to say you can’t do that.”

The players occasionally seem as though they’d like to move past the national anthem issue, with Stills doing so at the beginning of this season. He felt the kneeling had made its point—and it has, given the NFL’s increased interest in partnering with them in their cause—and sought to find more direct ways to impact the community. He did not kneel before the season opener, but changed his mind after Trump’s comments the following weekend.

It’s possible the kneeling movement has served its intended purpose now, after a year-plus of drawing attention to injustices. And if the end result is a truly impactful league-wide program, that appears to be a victory for the players who protested.

“The whole point of kneeling has never been about disrespecting anyone,” Julius Thomas said. “It’s never been about slighting the efforts that our soldiers and law enforcement officers and public safety individuals have done. We have tremendous respect for them.

“The purpose of the kneeling was to hope that through the protest, it could be addressed. It could be something where people sit back and go, ‘It wasn’t something I was paying attention to before or that I thought a lot about, but there’s some things that should change. There’s some inequalities that should be addressed.’ That was the entire point of the protest, and it’s encouraging to see people start to understand and put thought and time into it.”

[Adam Gase unwilling to explain why he isn’t allowing players to kneel for national anthem]

[Miami Dolphins can be one of NFL’s elite defenses]

[Grading the Dolphins after a 16-10 beating of the Titans]

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