LAKE FOREST – Chicago Bears Chairman George McCaskey met the media at Halas Hall on Thursday for the first time since the NFL announced its new policy on the national anthem and the imbroglio that has followed it over the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles’ failed visit to the White House to be honored.
Before taking questions, McCaskey read a detailed opening statement in which he focused more on his pride in the Bears players than he did on the anthem.
“We are proud of our players for their social activism and their efforts to make the greatest city in the world better.
“Often the work they do is without fanfare; frequently during the season, our players take the only day of the week they have off to talk to young people, to beautify our neighborhoods, to visit sick kids in hospitals, to congratulate and thank great teachers, the men and women of our military and first responders.
“Our players deserve to be applauded for the sacrifices they make to improve the lives of others.”
McCaskey also made clear that he believes players who did protest during the anthem last season did so for the right reasons.
“The first players to take a knee during the national anthem did so to bring attention to two issues: police misconduct and social inequality. These are legitimate issues that deserve discussion and action. As a country, we can do better. It’s part of the founding fathers’ charge to us to form a more perfect union.
“Commissioner (Roger) Goodell said it very well, and it bears repeating – it was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case.
“The players’ actions were characterized by some and perceived by some as disrespectful to the flag, our country and our military, and what should be a unifying moment for our communities and our country has become in some instances another source of divisiveness.”
While eloquent in his opening remarks and clearly supportive of his players, McCaskey also made clear that he supports the new league policy.
“We think players should stand. We encourage our players to stand. I told them that last September, and we feel the same way.”
When I asked him to comment on how he feels about President Donald Trump’s efforts to play politics with his game and his team, McCaskey nimbly dodged the issue.
“What the president was doing or not doing, or thinking or not thinking, or saying and not thinking didn’t really impact our support of this.”
But McCaskey did appear to hint at some displeasure with four Illinois congressmen/women (Robin Kelly, Jan Schakowsky, Bobby Rush and Danny Davis) who claim to have sent him a letter asking how he voted on the league’s new policy and requesting an audience to discuss it.
“I haven’t received the letter. My mom (owner Virginia McCaskey) hasn’t received the letter. I’m happy to have a constructive conversation with our duly elected representatives.
“But to me, the fact that the letter was released to the media before we’ve even had a chance to see it suggests the motivation may be more making political points than having a constructive conversation.”
Thursday also was the first chance to hear from the boss on the decision to re-sign tight end Zach Miller, who is recovering from a serious knee injury, and what the team’s thinking was on it.
“I had asked (CEO) Ted (Phillips) and (general manager) Ryan (Pace) last fall whether something could be done and was told that our options are limited. Ted came to me a couple of weeks ago and said that Ryan was thinking of this course of action. And I said it’s a football decision.
“But inside, I was rooting for it, and I think it’s great that it happened. In my opinion, it may be as important as any of our offseason signings.
“I’m looking forward to what he’s going to bring to us, his teammates, on the field, in the position meeting room and in the locker room in 2018.”