Bears Chairman George McCaskey toed a fine line during a press conference Thursday while addressing the National Anthem controversy that likely won’t fade into the background any time soon.
In McCaskey’s first public remarks on the subject since a carefully-worded press release last September, he said “we think players should stand” for the playing of the National Anthem prior to games, but also disputed that players who have chosen to and will choose to protest during the Anthem are not patriotic.
“The first players to take a knee during the national anthem did so to bring attention to two issues — police misconduct and social inequality,” McCaskey said. “There are legitimate issues that deserve discussion and action. As a country, we can do better. It’s part of the founding fathers’ charge to us to form a more perfect union. Commissioner Goodell said it very well, and it bears repeating — it was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case.
“The players’ actions were characterized by some and perceived by some as disrespectful to the flag, our country and our military, and what should be a unifying moment for our communities and our country has become in some instances another source of divisiveness.”
McCaskey said the Bears supported the NFL’s resolution on the Anthem enacted last month, which gives players and team personnel the option to remain in the locker room during the playing of the Anthem but gives teams the ability to fine those who openly protest on the field during it. McCaskey said he’s spoken with team president Ted Phillips and NFLPA union rep and outside linebacker Sam Acho (who’s been vocal on the subject) about potential discipline, but has not come to a formal decision on whether or not to fine players and team personnel for protesting during the Anthem.
“There is no easy answer to the anthem issue,” McCaskey said. “No one is entirely right, nor entirely wrong. The policy change enacted a couple of weeks ago by NFL teams, including the Bears, isn’t perfect. But we think it will return the anthem to what it should be — a unifying force — while providing an option to those players and other team personnel who choose not to stand.”
With regards to President Donald Trump, who sparked another Anthem firestorm when he dis-invited the Philadelphia Eagles — who were planning on bringing a smaller contingent of players and personnel for various reasons — from a White House visit, McCaskey said the NFL’s policy was not enacted in response to anything President Trump has said or tweeted about the issue.
“What the President was doing or not doing, or thinking or not thinking, or saying and not thinking didn't really impact our support of this,” McCaskey said.
McCaskey talked about how his relationship with Acho — who’s been the most outspoken player on the Bears about social justice issues and the Anthem — has grown since the issue of protesting during the National Anthem hit a flashpoint last September, when President Trump said NFL teams with players who kneel during the Anthem should “get that son of a bitch off the field.” A day after, the Pittsburgh Steelers remained in the locker room at Soldier Field for the playing of the Anthem, while the Bears locked arms on the sidelines.
“George and I spoke after the ruling was made,” Acho said on Tuesday. “I think it was a productive conversation. A lot of what we talked about was understanding … I mean, it’s tough as a player, like, why are you trying to infringe on my rights or my beliefs or my desire to make an impact? What I said last week was, no matter what people do we are going to try to make an impact one way or another.”
McCaskey said he wants to have more discussions with other players, and hopes other team owners around the league can start and/or continue dialogues with their players in an effort to re-build some of the trust that’s eroded between the two parties.
“I think we continue the dialogue,” McCaskey said, “and listen to each other.”