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NFL reiterates that standing for the anthem is not mandatory, sort of

Jerry Jones' comments on the national anthem conflicts with the NFL's stance on it and it could result in an ugly battle between both sides.

The NFL finally has addressed the recent comments from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones regarding his expectation that players will stand for the anthem and his interpretation of the game operations manual that, in his opinion, allows him to take that position. And while the NFL has not fired a shot across the bow at Jones, it’s clear that the league disagrees with him. Sort of.

During a media conference call on Tuesday, NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart carefully tiptoed around the issue, citing language that says players “should” stand for the anthem but stopping short of stating that teams may not force them to stand. Lockhart also said that the issue will be “front and center on the agenda” for next week’s quarterly ownership meeting, and that the rule possibly could be changed.

If it changes (for example, a revision of “should” to “must”), the next question becomes whether the NFL must engage in collective bargaining regarding the adjustment. Said Lockhart on that point, “I don’t believe that the anthem per se is an issue that’s collective bargained.”

The NFL Players Association may disagree on that point. If they do, there could be a legal challenge to any effort to change the manual unilaterally.

For now, though, the league’s position seems to be that teams cannot compel players to stand, subject to whatever may happen when all owners get together next week. But since the Cowboys don’t play this weekend, the question of whether Jones will be told that he can or can’t force players to stand (or bench those who don’t) will be subject to discussions among all owners next week that Jones, based on his recent history, may try to dominate.