A veteran Giants leader has invited President Donald Trump to visit the team and engage in a productive dialogue about NFL players’ intentions, actions and origins in this national anthem debate.
Linebacker Mark Herzlich, who is part of the NFL Players’ Association leadership council that has met frequently with league leaders on the subject, said Tuesday afternoon following the club’s fourth OTA practice in East Rutherford that he “would love Trump to come down” and see what an NFL locker room really is all about.
While there have been reports of NFL players potentially boycotting the 2018 season in response to both a new league policy requiring players to stand and the continued unemployment of Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, Herzlich said the issue is about so much more than one man, politics or patriotism.
And he has invited the President — who said last week that players who kneel during the anthem “shouldn’t be in the country” — to come see so for himself.
“I think the best way to handle remarks like that is it’s not necessarily a push back against his remarks. It’s to maintain the focus on the real issue,” Herzlich said. “The real issue isn’t players being against a president or against a country. It’s about players being for unity, and they want to create an atmosphere with law enforcement, with others in their community that we share in the locker room.
“You go in the locker room and guys from every single race, every single demographic, every single religious background, and we all are just a team,” Herzlich continued. “And so I think we see that, what’s possible. And I would love Trump to come down here and hang out in our locker room and see what locker room talk’s really about, and talking about our night nurses and our babies — this is what we talk about, it’s a family.”
Head coach Pat Shurmur did not technically issue an official team policy on how the Giants will enforce the NFL’s new policy at a club level. And co-owner John Mara did not speak to the media Tuesday morning, either.
But after passing the new rule last week, Mara called standing for the anthem “the right thing to do,” and Shurmur used that same phrase twice on Tuesday about his expectations of what his players will do. Shurmur noted he will be standing.
“We have not discussed it as a team,” Shurmur said of the new anthem policy. “We’re gonna sort of let it settle for a little bit here. It’s like any new rule, it’s a new policy, and I certainly trust that our players are going to do the right thing. And I think we just let it settle for a minute. At some point we’ll discuss it, but we just haven’t done it yet.
“I know certainly for me it’s very easy,” Shurmur continued. “I’m gonna face the flag, take my cap off and listen to the anthem and be thankful that my family and I live in the greatest country in the world. And be able to kind of reflect on and be thankful for all the sacrifice that a lot of people have gone through to help protect and secure our freedoms. So that’s what it means to me, and again I think at some point we’ll talk about it as a team. And I trust that our team will do the right thing.”
Giants players Olivier Vernon and Michael Thomas both knelt last season as members of the Giants and Dolphins, respectively, though, so it will be interesting to see both players’ reactions not only to the policy but to their coach and management if they are told that the expectation is to stand.
The NFL’s policy says protesting players can stay in the locker room but that kneeling or showing disrespect for the flag will result in the team being fined. Individual clubs also have the discretion to handle further discipline or fines as they see fit.
Jets acting owner Chris Johnson issued a statement last week that he won’t pass along any fines to his players (his brother, owner Woody Johnson, also is Trump’s ambassador to the United Kingdom). But Mara and the Giants have made no such promise.
“We haven’t had a team meeting,” Herzlich said. “I’m sure at some point we’ll go over the rules and gameday policy. Guys have different opinions on it in the locker room, but at the end of the day this is the rule that’s been enacted and make players aware that this is the current rule and despite there being a rule this is how you can help out in whatever role you want to.”