The NFL says the message players and teams are trying to express is being lost in a political firestorm.
The issues have been "overtaken by political forces," NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said Thursday, referring to President Trump's criticism of the league, team owners and players for kneeling during the national anthem.
To that end, Commissioner Roger Goodell held a round-table meeting with roughly 25 owners, league executives and players on Tuesday night to discuss the demonstrations.
More than 200 players either knelt or used other means as expressions of unity last weekend. Lockhart said such actions are not a protest against the anthem or the flag.
"One of the impacts is to distort the views of the NFL and particularly our players," Lockhart said.
Trump said NFL owners fear their players, and he renewed calls for action against those who kneel during the anthem.
"I think they are afraid of their players, if you want to know the truth, and I think it's disgraceful," he said in an interview that aired Thursday on "Fox and Friends." He says "most people agree" with him.
The players knelt last weekend in response to social injustice. Full teams, along with some team owners, linked arms either before or during the anthem. Three teams — Pittsburgh, Seattle and Tennessee — did not take the field until after the anthem.
Before the start of Thursday night's game between Green Bay and Chicago, Packers players released a statement this week saying they would intertwine arms before the game as a show of unity. They asked fans to join in the stands and at home, though it didn't appear that many fans locked arms. Many people in the crowd held up small flags during and after the anthem, some chanting "USA! USA!"
"They are under attack now and the (original) lesson has been forgotten," Lockhart said. "It is important for everyone to understand what they are talking about, to not see everything in terms of who is up or down politically.
"The NFL players are men of character, many of whom are leaders in their community. They are patriotic, support the military. They understand their platform can be used to make the country a better place."
Lockhart insisted there will be no "leaguewide directive" for future demonstrations.
New York Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas said the summit at the league's headquarters in New York lasted roughly two hours and was attended by several of the NFL's most prominent owners, including John Mara of the Giants, Robert Kraft of the Patriots and Art Rooney II of the Steelers. NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent also attended along with eight players from five teams.
Casillas said the group talked about what to do to move forward and how to approach the "whole kneeling situation."
"It was a whole bunch of opinions shared," Casillas said. "There was nothing we decided we're going to do collectively. I think it was a very conducive meeting."
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the gathering was one of the many conversations that have happened this week within the NFL.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford will miss his third game due to his troublesome left knee. "He's feeling better," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He's just not ready to practice." Case Keenum will make his third start for Bradford on Sunday against the Detroit Lions. ... Myles Garrett practiced, and the Cleveland Browns celebrated. The top overall pick in this year's draft, Garrett returned to the practice field for the first time in three weeks Thursday, increasing the possibility he could make his regular-season debut Sunday against Cincinnati. "We almost started to throw a little party to see him back out there," defensive back James McCourty said. ...
Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed is confident he'll be able to give it a go Monday night against the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs. A chest-rib injury sidelined Reed for Washington's Week 3 victory over the Oakland Raiders, but he was back at practice Thursday. … Falcons receiver Julio Jones was limited for the second straight day of practice with a sore back. The two-time All-Pro was injured on the last offensive snap of last week's 30-26 victory at Detroit when Lions safety Glover Quin made a clean tackle. …
The New Orleans Saints have placed veteran fullback John Kuhn on injured reserve, ending his season. The move comes after Kuhn missed practice on Thursday because of a biceps injury. The Saints have activated receiver Willie Snead, who is returning after a three-week suspension stemming from a drunk-driving arrest.