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Goodell: NFL Anthem Protests 'Threatening To Erode The Unifying Power Of Our Game'

BOSTON (CBS) -- The issue of players demonstrating during the national anthem is one that the NFL likely hoped would have gone away on its own. Yet the protests have persisted, and with the President of the United States once again weighing in via Twitter on Tuesday morning, the league felt a need to respond.

First, NFL spokesperson Joe Lockhart expressed some frustration with the current situation. Later, commissioner Roger Goodell wrote a letter to all 32 NFL teams, urging for a unified response and course of action across the league in order to "come together on a path forward to continue to be a force for good within our communities, protect the game, and preserve our relationship with fans throughout the country."

Owners are expected to discuss the matter at a meeting next week.

"I think we would certainly support the NFL coming out and asking players to stand just as the president has done," Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday afternoon. 'We support the national anthem, the flag, and the men and women who have fought to defend it. Our position hasn't changed on that front we're glad to see the NFL taking positive steps in that direction."

The NAACP is taking aim at a threat by Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones to bench players who kneel during the anthem, calling it "a public commitment by an NFL owner to violate his players constitutional right to free speech."

It's a point some fans at Gillette Stadium couldn't argue.

"Yeah because of the first amendment," Gloria Sontz said.

For some it's about freedom of speech, for others it's about respect.

"Me being a retired veteran, I believe players should stand for their flag," Bob Koontz said.

"I understand it's a lot of different views, but if you listen to the national anthem, it has nothing to do with their views," Diane Landi added.

Both Ian Rapoport and Adam Schefter shared Goodell's letter, which is pasted below in full:

To: Chief Executives/ Club Presidents
From: Commissioner Goodell
Date: October 10, 2017
Re: Fall Meeting/National Anthem

We live in a country that can feel very divided. Sports, and especially the NFL, brings people together and lets them set aside those divisions, at least for a few hours. The current dispute over the National Anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country.

I'm very proud of our players and owners who have done the hard work over the past year to listen, understand and attempt to address the underlying issues within their communities. At our September committee meetings, we heard directly from several players about why these issues are so important to them and how we can support their work. And last week, we met with the leadership of the NFLPA and more players to advance the dialogue.

Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem. 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. 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.

Building on many discussions with clubs and players, we have worked to develop a plan that we will review with you at next week's League meeting. This would include such elements as an in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues, and that will help to promote positive change in our country. We want to ensure that any work at the League level is consistent with the work that each club is doing in its own community, and that we dedicate a platform that can enable these initiatives to succeed. Additionally, we will continue the unprecedented dialogue with our players.

I expect and look forward to a full and open discussion of these issues when we meet next week in New York. Everyone involved in the game needs to come together on a path forward to continue to be a force for good within our communities, protect the game, and preserve our relationship with fans throughout the country. The NFL is at its best when we ourselves are unified. In that spirit, let's resolve that next week we will meet this challenge in a unified and positive way.

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