NFL commissioner, owners held unity meeting about future protests; John Mara will support Giants who kneel

One day after a secret Tuesday night meeting at NFL headquarters between commissioner Roger Goodell, 10 owners and eight players to discuss last weekend’s national anthem protests, Giants co-owner John Mara politely asked team leaders that his players stand for the anthem from now on but added he still will support those who kneel, too, according to Giants defensive captain Jonathan Casillas.

“We met last night with John Mara and several leaders from the locker room and basically we discussed moving forward about the whole kneeling situation,” Casillas said Thursday after practice. “Basically John Mara told us — I was sitting next to him side by side in Tuesday’s (NFL) meeting, so I understood where he was coming from — and he basically said he can’t ask us to do anything, really, he just request that we stand.

“It’d be, if he had any request, that’d be a request of his,” Casillas added. “But he also said if anyone in the locker room feels like they want to kneel, feels like they have to kneel, he’d be supportive of anybody who has to do that. Honestly, as a player in this league and everything going on, we can’t really ask for anything more than that.”

Casillas’ conclusion coming out of Tuesday night’s two-hour “open-table” NFL meeting was that “the owners for sure don’t want us kneeling, not because of what the message is but (because of) the message that’s getting across. People have totally misconstrued the kneeling thing from the beginning.”

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He said the group did not come up with any new plan, but there was a general consensus that something must change given the negative response and ramifications (financially, potentially) of the player protests.

“We’re in a trying time right now with all the racial situations, the kneeling, the disrespecting of the flag and also fans pulling away from the greatest professional sports (league) in the country,” said Casillas, whom the Giants players chose as their representative in response to a Mara invite. “And that’s been considered. That’s being felt by owners and players. So it’s something that moving forward we have to address.”

The subject is intensely political and sensitive, though, as well. President Trump, who called any player who kneels for the anthem a “son of a bitch” — stoking the fire and leading to league-wide protests last weekend — tried to take credit on Wednesday for getting Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to convince players to stand from now on.

Jones knelt with Cowboys players prior to Monday night’s anthem in Arizona, appearing to try and steer the protests away from the anthem at Trump’s behest.

“Spoke to Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys yesterday. Jerry is a winner who knows how to get things done. Players will stand for Country!” the divisive president tweeted.Casillas said by his recollection, owners from the Giants, New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles attended, as did NFL executive VP of football operations Troy Vincent, and eight players from five teams. Casillas said that group included the Eagles’ Chris Long, Jason (Browns) and Devin (Patriots) McCourty, the Patriots’ Matthew Slater, the Browns’ Christian Kirksey and a Jets offensive lineman, perhaps Ben Ijalana, the club’s player rep. Casillas said the Cowboys didn’t have a representative present.

“This was one of the many conversations that have happened this week within the NFL,” the league said in a statement to the Daily News. “The Commissioner believed with all the owners here for committee meetings it was important to bring in some players and hear directly from them. While the conversations will remain private, they were very informative and instructive.”

Olivier Vernon, one of three Giants to kneel for the anthem last Sunday in Philadelphia, said this when asked if he would kneel again in Tampa this weekend: “You know, I have no idea at this moment. Just got to wait until Sunday … I think people took it as a sign of disrespect when really, it’s far from disrespect.”

But Casillas said now that Goodell and the owners are opening this forum, players have to use it as an opportunity to convey their message.

“I feel like we should be taking advantage of that and do something as a unit and as a league to not only show that the protest wasn’t just to go against Trump and it wasn’t about disrespecting the flag, but it was actually about the racial injustices and the problems inside of our country that consistently have happened,” Casillas said. The Giants’ veteran linebacker was realistic when asked about concerns of losing money to fans who are turning their backs on the league. “At the end of the day we’re talking about losing money. Nobody likes losing money, especially not any of these owners,” Casillas.

But he also said the entire NFL, owners, coaches and players included left Colin Kaepernick hanging out to dry last year by not uniting then. Kaepernick is no longer employed in the NFL.

“When Kaepernick kneeled, he didn’t receive any support from a lot of us, and now it’s like oh we’re kneeling with him now. Are we really kneeling with him now? Are we?” Casillas said. “Or are we going against what President Trump said? It’s tough.”

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