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National anthem protests take center stage when NFL players, owners meet this week

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The national anthem and NFL players’ participation in it has been a bigger story than the football so far this season.
(Mark Tenally / Associated Press)

It’s ultra-rare for NFL players to participate in the annual fall meetings of the league’s owners, but these are unusual times.

A group of players, their union’s leader, and Commissioner Roger Goodell will join team owners Tuesday before the regularly-scheduled meetings at the Conrad New York hotel to discuss the national anthem controversy created by players kneeling to protest racial inequality. The NFL wants to hear the concerns of the players while not further alienating fans, and potentially sponsors, who see the protests as disrespecting the flag and the military.

Although the league and the union both say there will be no change to the current policy that players are not required to stand for the anthem, Goodell emphasized to teams in a memo last week that the league prefers players stand.

“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem,” Goodell wrote. “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.”

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League spokesman Joe Lockhart said Monday that the NFL will discuss additional ways it can use its considerable influence to support causes that matter to the players.

“As we have talked about before, the commissioner and league staff will be presenting a plan to use the platform that the NFL enjoys [for] raising awareness about many of the issues, but more importantly, to make progress on them,” Lockhart said. “We’ll have a lot more to say about that [Tuesday], but it is something we have been working with our players with over the last couple months.”

BOWMAN JOINS REELING RAIDERS

The Oakland Raiders, who began the season as a fashionable Super Bowl pick, have lost four in a row and won’t get a break this week. They play host to Kansas City on Thursday night. The Chiefs are coming off their first loss of the season, as they fell at home to Pittsburgh on Sunday.

On Monday, the Raiders signed former San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman to a one-year deal, and there’s a possibility he’ll play against the Chiefs.

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“We’ll see how the week goes and how he picks things up,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said.

The AFC West’s other two teams will face each other Sunday when the Denver Broncos play the Chargers at the StubHub Center. The Chargers, the division’s only team to win in Week 6, are tied for the AFC’s longest current winning streak at two games.

ACROSS THE POND

The NFL will stage its 20th regular-season game in London on Sunday, when the Rams play host to the Cardinals. That overseas game never has featured two teams with winning records, and that streak will stay alive this week as Arizona is just 3-3.

Still, this is a meaningful division game for both teams, as the Rams (4-2) are tied for the lead and have a chance to surpass last season’s win total, and the up-and-down Cardinals are feeling resurgent with the addition of future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns Sunday in his debut, a 38-33 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

WINLESS WONDERS

With Kansas City losing, there are no more undefeated teams. Each conference has a winless team though, with San Francisco and Cleveland both 0-6.

They both play at home Sunday, with the 49ers hosting Dallas and Cleveland hosting Tennessee. The Cowboys will be the more rested of those visitors, as they’re coming off their bye, whereas the Titans played Monday night and therefore have a short week.

HUNDLEY REPLACING RODGERS

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone Sunday, meaning former UCLA standout Brett Hundley will make his first start at quarterback for the Packers next weekend against New Orleans.

As Rodgers’ replacement in Sunday’s 23-10 loss at Minnesota, Hundley completed 18 of 33 passes for 157 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. At least he’ll be facing a more quarterback-friendly defense in the Saints.

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SUPER BOWL REMATCH

It’s a Super Bowl rematch in Foxborough on Sunday night, as New England plays host to Atlanta.

The Patriots, who made a historic 25-point comeback against the Falcons on the NFL’s biggest stage last February, have been uncharacteristically shaky at home, dropping two of three games.

The Falcons, meanwhile, are coming off a stunning 20-17 home loss to Miami, a 13½-point underdog, in which they blew a 17-point lead.

Sound familiar?

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer


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