NEW YORK - NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a letter to team owners that the league needs to "move past this controversy" over the National Anthem.
According to an NFL spokesman, team owners will discuss the National Anthem protest and possible changes to NFL guidelines when they meet next week. The game operations manual currently says that players "should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking."
In Goodell's letter to team executives obtained by CNNMoney, he wrote that the dispute "is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country."
"Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem," he 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."
Jaguar's spokesman Dan Edwards said the team will not have a comment on the issue until the owners meet and discuss it.
The National Anthem protest began in 2016 when 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee rather than stand as the song played. He used the demonstration as a way to speak out against the treatment of black Americans, particularly by police.
Since then more players have joined the protest.
President Trump decried the kneeling protests during a campaign-style rally in Alabama in September. Trump said that any players who refused to stand should be fired.
"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired. He's fired!'" the president said at a rally for Republican senator Luther Strange, who went on to lose.
After Trump's attack, hundreds of players joined the protest and the NFL promoted the message that it was unified. Several owners released statements criticizing the president's comments and some locked arms with their players during the anthem.
On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence left a game between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers as players took a knee during the anthem. President Trump tweeted that he had instructed Pence to leave the game if players didn't stand for the anthem.
Currently, there is no rule that requires players to stand.
Researchers at the University of North Florida found that while nearly 70 percent of people in Jacksonville watch at least some NFL football on television each week, the anthem protest has not made a big difference in their habits.
Half of those surveyed said the kneeling controversy has no influence on them watching the game. Just over a third of them said they are less likely to watch an NFL game on television now and 12 per said it makes them more likely to watch.
Indifference to the protest is even greater when UNF asked people about attending NFL games, with 53 percent said it has no influence, 32 percent less likely and 13 percent more likely.
UNF poll on NFL habits after anthem protests
"For all of the attention that the pregame protests have gotten, on average, most football fans are unaffected,” said Dr. Michael Binder, faculty director of the UNF Public Opinion Research Laboratory. "The really interesting aspect is how politically polarized the issue has become. Democrats, on balance, are more likely to watch or go to games, but Republicans are much less likely to watch and go to games."
Fans News4Jax questioned Tuesday were on both sides of the controversy.
Jacksonville NFL fan Robert, who didn't want to give his last name, said he'll start watching again "when they all get up and stand up."
"I understand the social injustices and maybe that’s the reason why they're kneeling," Molly Madray said. "There’s other ways to do that without disrespecting the men who fight and women."
"I think it’s up to them. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it -- with them kneeling," Lila Puangco said.
"Either way, football is going to get watched," Hilda Scarborough said.
In his memo to execs, Goodell said "we also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues."
"We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players."
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