Two Ravens emphasize freedom of speech after release of Roger Goodell’s anthem memo

One day after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote a memo to all 32 teams stating that the league believes “everyone should stand for the National Anthem” but did not go as far as requiring it, two Ravens players said individuals shouldn’t be told what to do during the anthem.

“I feel like they should let us do whatever we want to do,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said after Wednesday’s practice. “I feel like we’re starting to let the president get into it and make his personal views be the law of our league, which is a privately owned league. So I feel like our views, they don’t want to hear our views.”

“My whole thing is, everyone has their opinions, and at the end of the day, everyone has a right to do whatever they want to do,” free safety Tony Jefferson said. “Even if you don’t agree with someone’s opinion, I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal for people to look down or talk bad about somebody because they feel a certain way. Imagine if we all had the same opinions. How bad would that be? Let’s just accept the fact that there’s a problem at hand and people are addressing it and are talking about it, and they’re just trying to bring awareness to it.”

In the memo publicized Tuesday, Goodell wrote that the attention generated by players’ decisions to kneel or sit during the anthem are “dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country.” He called the dispute “a barrier,” adding, “We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”

The scrutiny over the protests intensified last month when President Donald Trump denounced players for not standing during the national anthem and lobbied NFL owners to fire players who kneeled or sat down during the anthem. Since then, Trump has continued to take aim at the league via Twitter, and on Sunday night, the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones became the first owner to announce that players who did not stand for the anthem would be benched.

On Wednesday morning, Trump congratulated Goodell via Twitter for “finally demanding” that players stand for the anthem, but the league countered by saying any comment suggesting that position was “not accurate.”

Team owners could alter rules to mandate that players stand for the anthem when they meet with Goodell next week in New York. But Jefferson said such a requirement might alienate players. Instead he pointed out that until 2009, players remained in the locker room while the anthem was played.

According to a joint statement from the NFL and NFL Players Association, Goodell reached out to NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith on Wednesday and both he and player leadership will attend the league meetings next week.

“There has been no change in the current policy regarding the anthem,” the statement said. “The agenda will be a continuation of how to make progress on the important social issues that players have vocalized. Everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military, and we are coming together to deal with these issues in a civil and constructive way.”

Wallace said he was not sure if there were winners or losers who would emerge from the controversy.

“I think it’s just a bad situation,” he said. “Like I said, I feel like they should let us do whatever we want to do. If you want to stand, stand. If you want to kneel, kneel. If you want to sit, sit. Whatever you want to do should be a personal preference to do.”

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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