Niners kneel again as talks loom on protest controversy

Seven San Francisco 49ers players kneeled during the US national anthem Sunday at Washington as the protest against racial injustice and social inequality continues.

Niners kneel again as talks loom on protest controversy
Geoff Burke USA Today Sports

Seven players for the San Francisco 49ers kneeled during the US national anthem Sunday at Washington in their first contest since prompting US Vice-President Mike Pence to walk out on an NFL game.

The scene of 49ers players standing with arms interlocked while seven teammates took a knee sets the stage for talks on the issue this coming week between players union leaders and NFL executives at owners meetings in New York.

Protest move started by Kaepernick

For the past two weeks, more than 20 San Francisco players had kneeled in the protest move started last year by ex-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, now a free agent unsigned after being released in March.

Last weekend, a 49ers' kneel protest prompted Pence to walk out of an Indianapolis Colts home game, in what appeared to be a pre-mediated stunt. 

Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence stand during the national anthem prior to the start of an NFL football game between the Indiana Colts and the San Francisco 49ers at the Lucas Oil Stadium, before walking out in a premeditated protest at some of the 49ers' players taking a knee.

US President Donald Trump later took credit for Pence's actions, saying he had told him to leave if players kneeled, something all but certain to happen since 49ers players had been doing it all season.

Trump calls for players kneeling to be fired

This is the fourth weekend since Trump began stoking the flicking flame of the protest move by calling any player who kneeled during the pre-game playing of 'The Star-Spangled Banner' a 'son of a bitch' and saying such players should be fired.

Trump has pushed the notion that kneeling players are insulting the nation, the flag and US soldiers, while the players have said the only motives are to raise awareness on US racial inequality and social injustice issues, using one of the very freedoms the flag represents.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says he wants in-depth talks between players and owners on the matter so each side can understand the issues from the other's perspective -- and how to address them in communities across the United States.

Goodell tried to calm matters last Tuesday in a memo to teams where he stopped short of demanding players stand for the anthem.

'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,' Goodell wrote.

'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.'

That sparked a Twitter posting from Trump saying: 'It is about time that Roger Goodell of the NFL is finally demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem-RESPECT OUR COUNTRY.'

Trump's tweet sparked the NFL to push back in a statement, saying 'commentary this morning about the commissioner's position on the anthem is not accurate.'

'The NFL is doing the hard work of trying to move from protest to progress, working to bring people together.

Remarks by Trump, who had been reluctant to condemn white supremacy groups following a deadly rally in Charlottesville last month, have not sat well with NFL players, most of whom are African-American.

More players kneeled in recent weeks than had done before, others locking arms in a show of unity, at times with team owners.