Mike Brown was on hand for the Bengals’ annual pre-training camp media luncheon, as is tradition. This is annually a major opportunity to check in on his feelings about the team heading into a crucial part of the offseason. It was also a chance for him to instill his confidence in recently re-signed head coach Marvin Lewis.
Brown also took the opportunity to share how he felt about protests made during the national anthem as the season quickly approaches. He started off by trying to avoid the obvious landmine, but he did offer up some comments on the subject.
Mike Brown not going to talk about anthem issues. Says doesn’t do any good for him to comment at this time.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) July 24, 2018
Mike Brown on players kneeling during national anthem: NFL has asked us to stand down on talking about it while they talk with the players' association. But, I do think it's important something uniform is in place by week 1 because it's a distraction for the league.— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) July 24, 2018
When asked if the President’s tweets have exacerbated the National Anthem issue, Mike Brown says it stirred the pot and has ‘worked against’ the league finding a productive solution.— Dan Koob (@DanKoob_WLKY) July 24, 2018
From a public relations standpoint, the original comment of not commenting was probably the safer move. The vagueness of wanting something in place by Week 1 leaves plenty of wiggle room for people to make their own assumptions on how Brown truly feels. And people have already done that following the team trying out and then not signing safety Eric Reid earlier this offseason. Reid was one of the first players to kneel alongside Colin Kaepernick, and he’s now struggling to find a team despite being a talented player in his own right.
There is no question that the NFL will likely have a huge distraction come Week 1, regardless of how it handles the national anthem. It was an issue for most of the season last year as TV stations were glued to the sideline during the national anthem searching for any players kneeling.
Of course, it has been a common talking point for President Donald Trump as well. Trump has attacked players multiple times for kneeling during the anthem and just tweeted about it on Friday. This has kept the topic in the news and fresh on people’s minds.
The NFL also passed a new anthem policy which required players on the field to stand during the anthem, but it also allowed players to stay in the locker room if they preferred. That also launched a grievance by the NFL Players Association.
Owners would be wise not to speak on the subject considering how much fire the Dolphins were under after is was relieved that the team would allegedly suspend players for kneeling during the anthem. After that, the NFL put all anthem rules on pause.
“I’m not going to dive into that. Yes, I have thoughts on it,” Brown said via Bengals.com when asked if he considered a Dolphins-like policy. “Yes, we had ways of handling it. I’m not so sure that wasn’t pretty good, at least compared to others. But that’s as much as I’m going to say about this, and let’s get on to something else.”
Following Reid’s visit in Cincinnati, which ended without a deal in place, it was alleged that Brown spoke with Reid about his intentions of kneeling during the anthem. Later on during the visit, Lewis also allegedly asked Reid about his intentions with protesting. Because of that, the Bengals became part of the collusion grievance filed by the NFLPA on behalf of Reid.
“Do I regret stepping into it the way that I apparently did? I think you know the answer to that,” Brown said on Tuesday, also noting that he’s meeting with lawyers about the Reid issue. “It has become a grievance, a lawsuit. I don’t want to get into that matter here. I think my counsel would appreciate my silence on the matter here and suggest I say what I have to say to him.”
It is hard to say what the best course of action for the NFL would be. Restricting players’ rights would cause a pushback from the players, and leaving things as they are will allow political figures to continue to launch criticism at the league.
“I am obligated to try to defend the interest of the football team and its fans. I don’t think what I am pushing for is harmful,” Brown said. “I actually think it is better for the project, better for the community.”
Either way, it seems like having something in place by Week 1 is as necessary as it is difficult. It also seems like anything eliminating the distraction is an overly optimistic hope.