LATROBE, Pa. – On July 19, a joint statement was released by the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association regarding the league's national anthem policy. Within all levels of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization, there is optimism regarding a resolution to this issue, and the optimism boils down to the use of the word "joint."
As in, the owners, players, and the union all working together.
"The policy we put in place in May, the Players Association didn't participate in any of those discussions, and the thing I'm encouraged about now is the Players Association and the league are engaged in these talks to come to a resolution," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "I think it's a positive development. Even though there has been good dialogue among the owners and the players and the commissioner for the past year, in order for the league to have a uniform policy, I believe the Players Association needs to be at the table in order to get that done."
Ramon Foster, the Steelers player rep, agrees. "When you're dealing with players, the owners, and the union, everybody wants to be on the same page, and at the end of the day that's what it's all about – them being open to sit down at the table and hash this thing out so there's not such negative press for us. For the owners to come to agreement to talk about it, I think nothing but positive can come out of it."
Coach Mike Tomlin sees things the same way. "Organizationally, we're really excited about the National Football League and the NFL Players Association agreeing to discuss and come to some global solution regarding this matter. We think it's a very positive step in terms of moving on from it in 2018. I think we're all ready to do that, and this is a real positive step in that regard. We're excited to see where those talks go and conclude, and we'll be ready to move forward with the rest of the National Football League with that agreement."
During a league meeting in New York in May, the owners adopted a policy they hoped would strike a balance among the views of players, fans, and members of the military and veterans communities. In a nutshell, that policy called for all team and league personnel on the field to stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem, while those who choose not to stand for the anthem could stay in the locker room until after it's performed.
"It was an effort to put the league in a position where there was a way to enforce a policy with regard to players' conduct during the anthem, while at the same time allowing the players who weren't comfortable participating to stay off the field," said Rooney about what came out of that meeting in May. "It's fair to say it was an attempt at a compromise."
But that didn't serve its intended purpose and the policy was criticized, mainly because it came across as unilateral. The Steelers believe a real resolution only can come via a cooperative effort.
"I think (a resolution can be reached), but at the end of the day, the agreement on it is big," said Foster. "The union will consult with the players, and I'm sure the owners will have a meeting about it also. It's about the players, the owners, and the union working together as one. I think that's what they're trying to do right now."
The national anthem protests never became a big deal with the Steelers, certainly not as big a deal as with other NFL teams.
"I was happy that none of our players knelt at any point during the season," said Rooney. "That game in Chicago was a unique circumstance, so we don't need to go into all of the dynamics of it. We had a lot of dialogue with our players, and I think our players and our coach did a good job in terms of keeping our focus on the game and trying to stay out of politics."
Said Foster, "To us, it's always been about football first. We all know everybody deals with social issues, either in their neighborhoods personally, or however it comes to you in life. It's not an issue with us of making it known. Our thing has been: do our job No. 1, and secondly help when the opportunity is there. A lot of our guys do that. We have numerous guys who have all kinds of charities throughout this nation, and it's a shame that it doesn't get highlighted as much as this situation does."
Maybe that changes once the league comes to a resolution on the national anthem, and the Steelers believe a resolution is a definite possibility now that one is being sought with input from all parties.
Or as that joint statement from the NFL and NFLPA worded it, "Our shared focus will remain on finding a solution to the anthem issue through mutual, good faith commitments."