NFL players, coaches grapple with new anthem policy
RENTON, Wash. — Seahawks coach Pete Carroll wanted to be talking about football matters — Seattle's recommitment to the run game, the addition of two new coordinators, almost anything to do with what happens between the lines.
Instead, the league's oldest coach has spent the past few days processing and discussing the league's new mandate that players on the field stand for the national anthem. Carroll, his players and those around the NFL are now trying to figure out how to tackle the polarizing topic in the locker room.
"We're going to have to deal with that," Carroll said. "I was kind of liking the way it was going and so now it's kind of taken out of the control from the coach and the players and the locker room to a certain extent, so we're going to have to deal with that. In time, we'll figure it out."
Players from Seattle, Buffalo, Denver and New Orleans were among those grappling with how to move forward following the league's announcement Wednesday of a new national anthem policy, which will fine teams if players on the field are not standing for the anthem. Players wishing to continue demonstrations like the kneeling movement sparked by Colin Kaepernick to protest social injustice will be allowed to remain in the locker room during the anthem.
Seattle's Doug Baldwin had the most striking comments, directed at both the league and President Donald Trump after his remarks to "Fox & Friends" on Thursday saying "maybe you shouldn't be in the country" if you don't stand for the anthem.
"He's an idiot. Plain and simple," Baldwin said. "I respect the man because he's a human being first and foremost, but he's just being divisive, which is not surprising. It is what it is. But for him to say anybody who doesn't follow his viewpoints or his constituents viewpoints should be kicked out of the country is not very empathetic. It's not very American like, actually, to me. It's not very patriotic. It's not what this country was founded upon. It's kind of ironic to me the President of the United States is contradicting what our country is really built on."
Even normally reserved Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson agreed with the sentiment that the owners' decision was a message to players to essentially be quiet.
"Pretty much. I think that's part of it. It seems that way," Wilson said. "But I think a policy right or wrong is not going to fix our problems."
The new policy allows teams to adopt their own workplace rules, which many players interpreted as a backhanded way of subjecting them to fines, suspensions or loss of jobs should they carry on with the protests.
Players are also frustrated the league didn't consult with the players' association before announcing the policy.
"I mean, they weren't ever going to engage us anyway. When you really think about it, why would we have a say-so?" Denver linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "I think they should have, right, but I guess they don't look at us like that, to have a say-so or input in this policy."
Others around the league didn't see the policy as a potential issue.
"I'm really not too worried about it. I would expect that everybody's gonna be out there with their hand over their heart, showing respect to the flag and to the country," New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said.
But teammate Demario Davis had mixed emotions about the policy. His father served in the military, but he also understands why players have been protesting.
"I just think that when you love something — you care about it — you want to work to get it right. I love my children. When they do wrong things, I'm going to let them know they're doing wrong things. I'm not just going to sweep it under the rug because I love them," Davis said.
"I think that's the difference between patriotism and nationalism. Nationalism is loving your country just to love it, you know, even when it's right or wrong, you're going to take the side of your country. Patriotism is loving it enough to sacrifice for it, but also to call it (out) when it's wrong.
"The people who are speaking up for the people who are hurting have a deep love and devotion for our country. That's kind of gotten misconstrued at times. But it's important for people to understand that."
The decision by the owners was an attempt to quell a firestorm by moving protests away from the public eye and potentially lure back disgruntled fans. But in the process they may have disgruntled their employees and rekindled what appeared to be an issue that was dying down.
"With this policy, with the inflammatory statement that Roger Goodell put out (Wednesday) again you opened the door for response and again to my point earlier, I think they missed it on that one," Baldwin said.
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton and AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report.
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