Marcio Jose Sanchez-AP

Marcio Jose Sanchez-AP



San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York, along with his father, John York, was at the owners meeting in New York on Tuesday and spoke to the media at length afterward. The younger York came away from the league discussions proud of the NFL. One of the key topics on Tuesday was progressing the NFL's involvement in the racial and socioeconomic issues that are the foundation for the player protests around the league.

York stated that there were never discussions about forcing players to stand for the national anthem or a change to the league rules that might prohibit such actions. York and the San Francisco 49ers have a strong belief in the First Amendment and feel that players have the right to voice their opinions however they see fit.

York stated that the discussions on Tuesday surrounded the following question: "How do we come together as a unified front and move forward and truly make progress happen in this country?"

Of course, the protests were thrust into the spotlight last month when President Trump made controversial comments about the players and the NFL saying that team owners should fire any player who chooses not to stand – but said so using more colorful language. It is very likely President Trump continues to use any outlet available to criticize the league.

"We need to be above it," said York. "We need to be above petty attacks from anybody because racial and socioeconomic inequality has existed in this country for too long. We need to get the focus on that and we need to make sure we make progress there ... You've got to block out the noise and you have to go do your job."

Jed York answers questions at owners meeting in New York

Of course, in making the comments, President Trump brought more awareness to the protests and – the league and players hope – the issues behind them. Even Vice President Pence did so by walking out of a game between the 49ers and Indianapolis Colts on October 8 after players knelt during the national anthem. The move, which many believe was staged, backfired and brought criticism down on the administration.

"When you have the President tweeting about you, when you have the Vice President making comments, that's awareness," York said. "There's never been greater awareness for these issues than today when you have, literally, 32 owners and the NFL commissioner coming together and saying, 'Alright, how do we work on this? How do we move forward? You have the awareness."

On Tuesday, the league appeared ready to stand by its players and not the President -- even if there are financial repercussions due to the perceptions by some fans.

"I think that our country is more important than a slight economic impact and I think if we can come together and we can work together in this front, you're going to bypass any economic downturn that you could possibly see because this issue is more important than economics," York said. "For the NFL to come out that strongly today and have that partnership with our players and start that partnership, I think it shows that. And, honestly, this is one of the proudest days that I've ever felt being a part of the National Football League."

Players like 49ers safety Eric Reid were in attendance at the meeting to share their thoughts with NFL owners. Of course, not all NFL owners share the same opinion of the national anthem protests as York. For instance, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made headlines when, after a conversation with President Trump, he said any Dallas players "disrespecting the flag" would be benched. The statement was criticised by Reid, who said he would continue to kneel even if he were wearing a Cowboys uniform.

"Obviously, people have different opinions on what kneeling means," York said, "but nobody talked about this as a tradeoff. There was nothing in the meeting [about stances like Jones'] today with the players. There was no conversation about that with the ownership just now. It was really, 'How do we move this to progress?'"

York said that he can understand the view that someone like Jones might have. York has a year of protests under his belt and didn't know what to make of the situation until he spoke with his players. Now, over a year removed, he understands how important it is to support his players and for the league to support all of its players.

"I think every owner, Jerry included, has a much different perspective today than several weeks ago [because of the meeting]," York said. "Again, I think that's what's important and I hope that folks that are watching understand that our players aren't trying to be disrespectful to the flag. They're not disrespectful to our country. They're trying to bring awareness to issues that come from their communities that most people that look like me don't understand."

York said the goal is to get away from the false narrative that has fallen upon the protests and return to the true message behind them – the issues of social and racial inequality.