- NFL owners and players met last week to discuss a variety of topics, including criminal justice reform and community engagement.
- While many viewed these meetings as a positive step, the veteran tackle Russell Okung felt that the league was indifferent to player concerns.
- There will be another round of meetings next week, which Colin Kaepernick is reportedly set to attend.
The recent New York meetings between NFL owners and players were viewed by many as a positive step towards reaching an understanding, but not everyone agreed with that assessment.
Russell Okung, an eight-year veteran who has made nearly 100 starts in his career, showed up to the meetings under the impression that those in attendance would be taking significant actions, but “that wasn’t true at all.” Instead, the offensive lineman encountered a group of owners and league officials who seemed indifferent about player concerns.
“I am disappointed that further progress has not been reached on discussions with the league,” Okung said, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. “NFL officials appear unmotivated and don’t share the same sense of urgency. Increasingly, the meetings appear unproductive at best and disingenuous at worst. Furthermore, the ongoing disparagement of Colin Kaepernick is a factor needing remedy for the players and public to feel heard and for real progress to be made.”
Players, owners, and league officials met in light of the NFL’s recent wave of national anthem protests at a regularly-scheduled owners meeting on October 17. They discussed the protests themselves, as well as other potential methods of promoting player causes and community involvement. Okung was joined by a group that included stars like Michael Thomas, Josh Norman, and Chris Long, as well as the NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and president Eric Winston.
While a number of reforms were reportedly discussed, Okung said that league officials weren’t as enthusiastic as they could have been.
“It’s disappointing, because anytime the NFL says it cares about something, like breast cancer awareness, domestic violence, concussions, it comes out in force,” he said. “So far we haven’t seen that.”
Soon after the meetings, ESPN obtained a memo distributed by Arthur McAfee, the NFL’s senior vice president of player engagement. He wrote that those involved discussed “criminal justice reform, law enforcement, community engagement, and collaboration.” He also outlined three distinct arenas in which the players and owners agreed to pursue changes: “Media Amplification and Platform Development,” “Community Engagement and Education,” and “Public Policy and Government Affairs.”
While Okung was dissatisfied with the meetings, others, like Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, took a more favourable view.
“We felt like the meeting went really well … Conversations will continue, the dialogue will continue,” he said to the media. “As players we’ll continue to work in our communities because we feel like that’s the most American thing to do, to use your platform and influence.”
Jenkins wasn’t the only one who was happy with how the meetings went. At least one owner, Arthur Blank of the Falcons, was also pleased.
“I told [commissioner] Roger Goodell this, and I said it to all the owners this afternoon — I thought this was one of the most open and productive meetings I’ve been in, maybe ever, in any business I’ve been involved with,” he said, according to Peter King of Sports Illustrated. “And I’m 75 years old.”
The next round of meetings is set for next week, and it could be a big one: unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the player who popularised the national anthem protests, is set to attend, according to a report from Yahoo’s Charles Robinson.
With players like Kaepernick and Jenkins leading the way, those meetings should be significant, but if Okung is right about league officials’ level of interest — or if his comments sour fellow players on having a dialogue with the NFL at all — they may not be of much consequence. The meetings will begin early next week.
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