A handful of NFL players and owners met Tuesday to discuss social issues, inequality, and other issues in the United States today, and for the first time ever, it seems like the meeting was extremely productive.

What’s the different? Well, for starting, the NFL national anthem protests didn’t come up. Not once. The players and owners were able to have a legitimate, constructive conversation about the issues without it devolving into a petty argument over whether or not the flag is being disrespected.

And, as a result, it went well, and it gave everyone some promise for the future—just ask Indianapolis Colts defensive back Darius Butler.

“Obviously it’s a different perspective,” said Butler. “I think that’s the most important thing when it comes to these issues, perspective and respect everyone’s right regardless of how they feel. Whether it is peacefully protesting or speaking on these issues. I think it’s important to respect everyone…It’s ongoing; it’s not going to be a resolution overnight. Obviously, these are issues important to the players. That’s what we talked about and some things going forward.”

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was a little more concise in his review of the meeting, but he made the same point that this was a legitimate open discussion.

“We heard what they had to say, and they heard us,” said Ross. “It’s open talks, and that’s a good thing.”

Even the NFLPA, which is historically difficult to please, especially regarding issues of players’ rights and ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard, seemed satisfied with the content and direction of the meeting.

“Today owners and players had a productive meeting focused on how we can work together to promote positive social change and address inequality in our communities,” said the NFLPA in a statement. “NFL executives and owners joined NFLPA executives and player leaders to review and discuss plans to utilize our platform to promote equality and effectuate positive change. We agreed that these are common issues and pledged to meet again to continue this work together.”

Representing the NFL were commissioner Roger Goodell, head of football operations and former player Troy Vincent, and owners from 11 teams, including Jed York (San Francisco 49ers); John Mara (New York Giants); Robert McNair (Houston Texans); Arthur Blank (Atlanta Falcons); Stephen Ross (Miami Dolphins); Terry Pegula (Buffalo Bills); Michael Bidwill (Arizona Cardinals); Shad Khan (Jacksonville Jaguars); Art Rooney (Pittsburgh Steelers); Jeffery Lurie (Philadelphia Eagles); and Robert Kraft (New England Patriots).

Joining Darius Butler on the players’ side were Josh Norman of the Washington Redskins; Kelvin Beachum and Demario Davis of the New York Jets; Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long of the Philadelphia Eagles; Mark Herzlich of the New York Giants; Russell Okung of the Los Angeles Chargers; Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas, and Michael Thomas of the Miami Dolphins; former player Anquan Boldin; and executive director DeMaurice Smith and president Eric Winston of the NFLPA.

Notice any names missing from that list? I’ll give you a hint: he’s the one that started the movement that eventually led to this meeting.

That’s right, no Colin Kaepernick. The free agent quarterback was invited (at least by the players’ side), but he chose not to attend the meeting because of, according to his lawyer, push back from the NFL side.

Colin Kaepernick was not invited to attend today’s meeting by any official from the NFL or any team executives,” said Kaepernick’s lawyer, Mark Geragos. “Other players wanted him present and have asked that he attend the next meeting with the goal of forging a lasting and faithful consensus around these issues. Mr. Kaepernick is open to future participation in these important discussions.”

Kaepernick has become a sort of de facto leader of this entire movement simply by starting it. He’s not an active public speaker about discrimination or overly involved in community efforts to address it, but he did get people talking about it, making him the face of the movement. While the national anthem protests didn’t come up and Goodell announced there will be no change to the league’s policy for now (promoting another tweet from President Donald Trump), Kaepernick was discussed.

“I did bring up in the meeting how this started with him,” said 49ers safety Eric Reid. “And we need to get the messaging straight surrounding him. They heard me, and they agreed.”

While it isn’t clear what exactly the owners and players discussed around Kaepernick, both sides acknowledged that this was only the beginning. One meeting isn’t going to stop the protests, but it’s a step in the right direction of ensuring the players have their grievances heard.

“This is a long-term project, if you want to call it that,” said Reid. “There wasn’t much that was going to happen in a two-hour meeting. We are going to continue to meet, continue to have dialogue, and figure out a way to get these issues on track. We started [kneeling] to raise awareness and to effectuate change. We’re on the path to make the change we think we can make; we are just not there yet.”

Yay! Real progress! What a time to be alive!

Leave a Reply