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NFL says policy on standing during anthem will be ‘front and center’ at owners’ meeting next week

Center Justin Britt #68 of the Seattle Seahawks, left, and running back Thomas Rawls #34, right, join defensive end Michael Bennett #72 on the bench during the national anthem before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field on September 17, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

NFL owners will meet next week to consider changes to a game manual that says players “should” stand during the national anthem, a guideline that the league has left to the discretion of players who kneeled in larger numbers after criticism from President Donald Trump.

Commissioner Roger Goodell told club executives Tuesday in a memo obtained by The Associated Press that the anthem issue is dividing the league from its fans. He said the NFL needs “to move past this controversy.”

NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said the policy will be “front and center on the agenda” when owners meet in New York next Tuesday and Wednesday.

The movement started by former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick last season had mostly subsided when Trump told a rally in Alabama last month that owners should get rid of players who kneel during the anthem.

“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem,” Goodell wrote. “It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us.”

“We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues,” he continued. “The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues.

“We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”