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ESPN offers in-depth look at the NFL, player protest summit

Seth Wickersham’s story for ESPN puts 49ers at the center, on both side of the negotiation

NFL: NFL Owners Meetings Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta, Jr. of ESPN published a must-read article on Friday about the negotiations at the NFL Owners Meeting over the “Take A Knee” protest. You should go read the entire article as soon as possible -- it’s right here.

In the meantime, here are some key takeways.

1) The 49ers are at the center of the story, on both sides of the negotiation.

Jed York and Eagles owner Jeffery Lurie lead the progressive faction of the owners. Colin Kaepernick of course started the protest last year, and S/LB Eric Reid is a key figure on the player’s side.

In fact, Wickersham and Van Natta report this remarkable exchange:

NFL executive Troy Vincent, who cared deeply about the players' concerns but had little patience for the protests, called San Francisco 49ers GM John Lynch the Saturday before the meeting. He told him that if safety Eric Reid, one of the most ardent protesters, knelt the next day, he shouldn't "bother to show up" at the players-owners meeting because nobody would take him seriously, according to people briefed on the call. Reid knelt anyway. And he intended to show up.

Vincent is a former Eagles cornerback who is currently the NFL’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations. He and Lynch were both defensive backs in the league from 1993 to 2006, and presumably know each other fairly well.

2) Only 9 of 32 owners supported a rule forcing players to stand.

Frankly, this surprises me. Even Trump allies among right-wing owners are split. Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys), Bob McNair (Houston Texans), and Dan Snyder (Washington RacistNames) predictably led the hard-core group wanting a rule forcing players to stand, but Bob Kraft (New England Patriots), a close personal friend of Trump, joined the more player-friendly and protest-friendly majority. At least one major TV sponsor threatened to pull out if they passed it.

3) Roger Goodell actually did well and impressed people on both sides of the talks.

I know, right? I had to read it a couple of times to make sure I had that right.

This was Goodell leading in a manner they'd rarely seen: He was not playing a zero-sum game, he was not risk-averse and his compassion clearly lay with the players in the face of severe pressure from hard-line owners and business executives.

4) Jerry Jones is losing his dominance over NFL owners.

Praise the Lord.

Some owners had tired of Jones always commandeering such meetings; some were jealous of his power and eager to see him go down; ... some owners were angry with Jones' hard-line public stance on kneeling, feeling that it had backed them all into a corner. ... Jones found himself in an unfamiliar position: He wasn't getting his way. He knew it, and everyone knew it.

5) Collusion against Colin Kaepernick pretty much confirmed.

This should be obvious anyway, if you watched terrible QBs Matt Moore vs. Ryan Mallett play last night. There are several quarterbacks vastly inferior to Kaepernick playing this year. David Fales just got signed. David Fales.

"A few owners tried to separate their deep dislike of unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the protests a little more than a year ago, from the players' broader message..."

6) Texans’ owner McNair said “We can't have the inmates running the prison"

For all the nuance and insight in this article, this quote from McNair, a multi-million donor to Trump, is destined to get all the headlines. DeAndre Hopkins reportedly walked out of practice today as a result, and it could have been far worse:

The article says that Troy Vincent called McNair out directly for his comment, and that McNair later apologized to him personally, saying his comments were not meant literally.

Some have defended McNair by arguing that he was simply using a common expression and didn’t mean to describe his players as prisoners or criminals. That argument doesn’t really hold up though.

The common expression is “inmates running the asylum,” and it’s self-deprecatory: “We’re all crazy here!” No one says “inmates running the prison,” and the difference is revealing, especially since the “Take A Knee” protests are directed at the criminal justice system.

McNair is also one of the most conservative owners, a guy who donated $1 million to Tump’s inauguration committee and another $1.3 million to Republican campaign funds last year, and one the owners most strongly in favor of a rule forcing players to stand for the anthem.

Eric Reid responded to McNair’s comments Thursday, as described in James Brady’s article at NinersNation.

These bullet points don’t capture half the color and nuance of the ESPN article. It doesn’t take long to read. I highly recommend it.