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Roger Goodell says NFL fans don’t come to stadiums ‘to be protested to’

Goodell reiterates once again, he would like players to stand for the anthem.

NFL: International Series-NFL UK Live Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Roger Goodell spoke at Bloomberg’s The Year Ahead Summit in New York on Wednesday, speaking about the state of the NFL. The topic of player protests came up, and in talking about them, that’s when he told the audience, “People come to our stadiums to be entertained and have fun, not to be protested to.”

Goodell started off by saying that we live in a very divided society. “I think that's one of the things I think when we have a platform the way we do people seek to find that division and I think that's something we try to resist,” he said. “And in this case I've been very clear about this — the anthem, the respect for our flag is very important. So I want to see our players stand.”

While Goodell would like to see players stand, there’s not a hard rule forcing players to stand for the anthem. The owners met with players in October to discuss the issues with and the possibility of a rule forcing them to stand, but were unable to do so.

Goodell recognized that players have reiterated that the protests have never been about disrespecting the flag, military, or veterans, during his remarks Wednesday morning. He also mentioned that he believed the players, but added that on a national basis, it isn’t viewed like that.

Goodell said that he and the NFL try to “listen and learn and understand” what the players are focused on. He mentioned the players trying to improve their communities, focusing on social justice reform, as well as criminal justice reform.

“I'm proud of our players for that and proud of our owners for listening, supporting them and trying to give them a platform in which to make improvements in our society, which we're all about and do that in a way and get beyond what we call ‘protest to progress,’” he said.

That’s when Goodell took a turn, and added that fans come to the stadium to be entertained and have fun, not to “be protested to.”

When he was asked what role the NFL plays in society, he deflected from the idea of the league being anything more than a game.

“I think you're getting into something, getting into politics is not something we do,” he said. “Values aren't necessarily about politics. Values are the way you do things and I think we want to make sure we do things at the highest standards. And I think people expect us to.”

Goodell’s stance has not changed on the issue surrounding the national anthem.

It’s a similar sentiment, softer stance, and less offensive take on it than what Texans owner Bob McNair had at the owners meeting when he said “we can't have the inmates running the prison,” in reference to players kneeling during the anthem. By not taking such a hard-line stance on it, he’s attempting to remain neutral among owners like McNair and Jones, while also not getting in bad graces of owners like Jed York, who have supported protesting players.

But the line about fans not coming to the stadium to be protested to was an indication of Goodell himself coming on a little stronger than he has in the past.

Sure, fans don’t come to the stadium “to be protested to” — and that’s not what’s happening. Fans don’t go to NFL stadiums to see their team lose, and they’re also not there for the national anthem in the first place. That’s not to say the national anthem and the flag aren’t important, but there’s an oddly heavy emphasis on something non-football related at a football game.

Goodell’s comments are a continuation of those that he delivered after the owners and players met in New York a few weeks ago. He’s also in the midst of owners trying to figure out a contract extension for him. That hasn’t been going well, with Jerry Jones reportedly being the main reason for the hold up. Angry with Goodell over Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension, Jones has used the issue of player protests to question Goodell’s leadership.

For now, expect Goodell to keep saying he would like players to stand, while staying neutral enough to not incite a labor war with players, and staying in good graces of all the owners, at least as much as he can. Especially while talks of his extension are ongoing.