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Vic Carucci's NFL meeting analysis: League leaving protests alone ... for time being

NEW YORK — For now, it looks as if the NFL's approach to players choosing to kneel during the national anthem is to leave well enough alone.

Don't shake things up by instituting a new policy that requires players to stand. Don't be confrontational with what seems to be less of an emotional powder keg than it was earlier this season.

Listen to the issues. Make an effort to understand them.

And do whatever can be done to help solve the social problems — such as criminal justice reform, bail reform and mandatory sentencing — that players and the league say are the impetus of the protests, not a lack of respect for the flag or the military.

That was the main takeaway as the league wrapped up its two-day fall meeting in lower Manhattan Wednesday.

This was hardly business-as-usual for the NFL. Part of the first day was devoted to a four-hour discussion on social matters at the league's midtown headquarters that included 11 club owners (including the Buffalo Bills' Terry Pegula), a dozen active players, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith. Pegula, for one, sounded upbeat afterwards, calling the talks "very amicable" and saying that "a lot got done between us."

Whether the NFL continues to proceed with this distinctive air of cooperation is anyone's guess. Everything could change if one owner decides to order the players on his team to stand and threaten discipline if they don't. Jerry Jones has already put that on the table once with his Dallas Cowboys.

Another potential wild card is, of course, a presidential tweet, which triggered the rise in protests a few weeks ago.

Having built what it perceives as goodwill with players (and some of those who attended the Tuesday's meeting acknowledged such progress has been made), the NFL thinks this is the right time to stand pat on the anthem topic rather than deciding to make standing mandatory. NBA players who don't stand are subject to suspension.

Even with all sorts of backlash from fans and sponsors, the NFL doesn't think it has to resort to similar measures and then find itself dealing with players who are more hardened in their protesting stance. More than once Wednesday, for instance, Goodell pointed out that only "six or seven" players were continuing to use kneeling as "The Star-Spangled Banner" is playing as a form of protest.

"We are hoping to continue to try and work and get that to zero," he said.

Goodell stopped just short of saying that, except for a small number of diehards, players who are passionate about social justice will direct their energies in ways that don't involve protesting.

"There is a great deal of support for the efforts that our players have identified," Goodell said. "They not only support but recognize that these are important issues for our communities. They are American issues and certain things that we want as clubs and as the league that we want to support and be a part of and help lead with our players. I think those are the key issues."

They aren't the only ones, though. Make no mistake about that.

Goodell and the owners continue to strongly believe that everyone should stand for the anthem. He and the owners had a lengthy discussion about that Wednesday.

"That is an important part of our policy," the commissioner said. "It's also an important part of our game that we all take great pride in. It is also important for us to honor the flag and our country — our fans expect us to do that."

But the talk didn't turn into action.

For now.

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