NFL meeting kicks off in New York as protesters kneel outside

NEW YORK, Oct 17 (Reuters) - National Football League officials weighed the fervor of players protesting racism against U.S. President Donald Trump's anger as their two-day autumn meeting began on Tuesday with supporters of the players kneeling outside in solidarity.

Trump's repeated denunciation of the players as unpatriotic for kneeling during the national anthem, which he reiterated as recently as Monday, has only made the practice more widespread.

His calls for fans to boycott games if players persist is an unwelcome prospect even for the world's highest-grossing sports league and have forced the topic high up the agenda of this week's regularly scheduled meeting in New York City.

Outside the Manhattan luxury hotel where team owners, players and their union's leaders met, about two dozen people showed their backing for the protesting athletes, kneeling on the sidewalk while holding placards that read "Take a knee against police brutality."

The demonstrators later dispersed.

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Protesters gather outside NFL meetings in New York City
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Protesters gather outside NFL meetings in New York City
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: Activist Glenn Cantave joins others in a coalition of advocacy groups who were 'taking a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on October 17, 2017 in New York City. Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: A coalition of advocacy groups demonstrate outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on October 17, 2017 in New York City. Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: A coalition of advocacy groups demonstrate outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on October 17, 2017 in New York City. Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: A coalition of advocacy groups 'take a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on October 17, 2017 in New York City. Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: A coalition of advocacy groups 'take a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on October 17, 2017 in New York City. Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: A coalition of advocacy groups 'take a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on October 17, 2017 in New York City. Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Oct 17, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Black Lives Matter New York president Hawk Newsome speaks to media outside of the Conrad Hotel where the NFL owners meeting is set to take place. Mandatory Credit: Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 17, 2017; New York, NY, USA; K Sloan sings the national anthem for protestors and media outside of the Conrad Hotel where the NFL owners meeting is set to take place. Mandatory Credit: Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports
Glenn Cantave poses after a rally with other demonstrators outside the location of the annual NFL owners meeting in New York City, NY, U.S. October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Demonstrators rally outside the NFL owners meeting in New York City, NY, U.S. October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Demonstrators rally outside the location of the annual NFL owners meeting in New York City, NY, U.S. October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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The small but growing number of players who have taken to kneeling are protesting the killing by police of unarmed black men and boys across the United States, as well as racial disparities in the criminal justice system. More than half of all NFL players are black.

An NFL spokesman had said the president might not see an outright ban on the act soon, if ever, and predicted that the meeting would focus on ways for all sides to work together.

Along those lines, team owners and players had a "productive meeting" on Tuesday about how to collaborate on positive social change and addressing inequality, according to a statement by the NFL and the players' union, the NFL Players Association.

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NFL players, owners protest after Trump's harsh criticism
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NFL players, owners protest after Trump's harsh criticism
Sep 24, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts players kneel during the playing of the National Anthem before the game against the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Baltimore Ravens players kneel for the American National anthem during the NFL International Series match between Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on September 24, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Members of the Dallas Cowboys link arms and kneel during the National Anthem before the start of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 25, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan links arms with players during the national anthems before the match Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: (L-R) Wide recceivers Chris Moore and Breshad Perriman of the Baltimore Ravens pray prior to kickoff during the NFL match between The Jacksonville Jaguars and The Baltimore Ravens at Wembley Stadium on September 24, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mitchell Gunn/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Jacksonville Jaguar players show their protest during the National Anthem during the NFL International Series match between Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on September 24, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Patrick Omameh of the Jacksonville Jaguars kneels during the U.S. national anthem before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel during the U.S. national anthem before the match Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel during the U.S. national anthem before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Jacksonville Jaguar players show their protest during the National Anthem during the NFL International Series match between Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on September 24, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: (Editors Note: This image has been turned black and white) Jacksonville Jaguars enter te stadium during the NFL International Series match between Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on September 24, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Sep 24, 2017; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills players kneel in protest during the National Anthem before a game against the Denver Broncos at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Denver Bronco players kneel in protest during the National Anthem before a game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) and teammates stand next to service members holding a giant US flag during the national anthem prior to the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; The Cleveland Browns team stand and kneel during the National Anthem before the start of their game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers link arms during the national anthem prior to the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (44) middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead (59) running back Ameer Abdullah (21) outside linebacker Steve Longa (54) defensive end Jeremiah Ledbetter (98) defensive end Armonty Bryant (97) defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson (91) and defensive end Cornelius Washington (90) kneel during the national anthem before the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
September 24, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets players lock arms during the national anthem before the game against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Members of the Denver Broncos kneel during the playing of the national anthem prior to a game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; The Dallas Cowboys players, coaches and staff take a knee prior to the National Anthem before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; London, United Kingdom; Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel during the playing of the United Sates national anthem before a NFL International Series game against the Baltimore Ravens at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; Members of the New England Patriots take a knee during the national anthem before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Some of the Miami Dolphins take a knee during the anthem prior to the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; Members of the New England Patriots kneel for the national anthem before the start of the game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel during the U.S. national anthem before the match Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Patrick Omameh of the Jacksonville Jaguars kneels during the U.S. national anthem before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Sep 24, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Oakland Raiders players sit on the bench during the national anthem prior to their game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder stands with cornerback Josh Norman (24) and cornerback Bashaud Breeland (26) and safety D.J. Swearinger (36) during the playing of the national anthem before the game between the Washington Redskins and the Oakland Raiders at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Oakland Raiders players sit on the bench during the national anthem prior to their game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Carson, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Marcus Peters (22) protests next to running back Charcandrick West (35) and defensive tackle Roy Miller (98) during the National Anthem prior to the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at StubHub Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Lance Kendricks (84) and tight end Martellus Bennett (80) sit on the bench during the national anthem prior to the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Recording artist Meghan Linsey kneels after singing the national anthem before the game between the Tennessee Titans and the Seattle Seahawks at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
September 24, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets players lock arms during the national anthem before the game against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan links arms with players during the national anthems before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 24: Members of the Chicago Bears stand arm-in-arm during the National Anthem before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Soldier Field on September 24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Justin Houston #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs is seen taking a knee during the National Anthem before the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at the StubHub Center on September 24, 2017 in Carson, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 General view during the national anthems before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
At the start of the game protestors take a knee in support of the movement started by NFL player Colin Kaepernick, outside Lincoln Financial Field, in South Philadelphia, PA, on September 24, 2017. Similar protest are staged around the nation after US President Donald Trump named Kaepernick a Son of A Bitch at a recent rally. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Strong safety Tyvon Branch #27 of the Arizona Cardinals links arms with staff and players during the National Anthem before the start of the NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 25, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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"As we said last week, everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military," the statement said. "In the best American tradition, we are coming together to find common ground and commit to the hard work required for positive change."

Malcolm Jenkins, a player for the Philadelphia Eagles, told reporters that the two sides discussed how to amplify players' voices and make what he called "long sustainable changes."

"We all have mutual interests ... We want to make sure that the quality of product that we put out on the field is great, but at the same time we have a responsibility to the communities that we live in and the communities that we come from," Jenkins said.

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Fans react to NFL players protesting during national anthem
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Fans react to NFL players protesting during national anthem
Oct 8, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans fan holds up signs before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 01: A fan in the stands yells at players during the national anthem prior to the game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Buffalo Bills at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 01: A Cleveland Browns fan holds a sign in protest durning the nation anthem in the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Justin Aller /Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 01: Fans making a statement about the recent national anthem protests during a football game at NRG Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - OCTOBER 01: A detail view of a sign displayed by fans during a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 01: Fans making a statement about the recent national anthem protests during a football game at NRG Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Charger fans make their way to the stadium past Donald Frazell from Los Angeles as he holds a sign near other protesters demonstrating in support of NFL players who "take a knee" before kickoff and during the National Anthem protesting police violence outside the StubHub Center where the Los Angeles Chargers are playing the Philadelphia Eagles in an NFL football game in Carson, California, U.S. October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
Oct 1, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos fans show their support with t-shirts in reference to standing for the American national anthem during the fourth quarter of a game against the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers fans hold up signs in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Cleveland Browns fans during their game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; A New England Patriots fan holds a sign as they take on the Houston Texans in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Fans hold signs before the singing of the National Anthem before the NFL game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 25, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
At the start of the game protestors take a knee in support of the movement started by NFL player Colin Kaepernick, outside Lincoln Financial Field, in South Philadelphia, PA, on September 24, 2017. Similar protest are staged around the nation after US President Donald Trump named Kaepernick a Son of A Bitch at a recent rally. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 8: A fan of the Cincinnati Bengals holds up a sign showing his opposition to players kneeling during the national anthem during the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills at Paul Brown Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
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PLAYERS PUSH BACK

Trump wants the league to suspend players if they kneel during the pregame renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner," saying on Monday the players were disrespecting the country. His vice president, Mike Pence, walked out of a stadium in Indianapolis earlier this month as players knelt, which Trump said he had instructed Pence to do.

Some team owners, including Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, sympathize with the president. Jones has said he would punish players who kneel by keeping them off the field.

Jones and Buffalo Bills owner Kim Pegula were among the officials seen heading into the meeting on Tuesday, all of them ignoring shouted questions from reporters. Many officials arrived through a rear entrance to avoid cameras.

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NFL owners arrive at NFL meetings in New York
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NFL owners arrive at NFL meetings in New York
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones arrives for the NFL owners meeting in New York City, NY, U.S. October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Chairman of the New York Giants Steve Tisch arrives for the NFL owners meeting in New York City, NY, U.S. October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft arrives for the NFL owners meeting in New York City, NY, U.S. October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank arrive together for the NFL owners meeting in New York City, NY, U.S. October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars Shahid Khan arrives for the NFL owners meeting in New York City, U.S., October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
President of the New York Giants John Mara arrives for the NFL owners meeting in New York City, U.S., October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Chairman and CEO of the Philadelphia Eagles Jeffrey Lurie arrives for the NFL owners meeting in New York City, U.S., October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Oct 17, 2017; New York, NY, USA; New York Giants chairman and executive vice president Steve Tisch attends the NFL owners meeting at Conrad Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 17, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones at the NFL owners meeting at Conrad Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones speaks to members of the media as he exits the NFL owners meeting in New York City, U.S. October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Oct 17, 2017; New York, NY, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to the media after the NFL owners meeting at Conrad Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports
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Players and their union have bristled at Trump's assertion they are unpatriotic. Though still a minority, more players have begun kneeling since the new season began, and some sympathetic teammates have linked arms with the kneelers while standing themselves.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who first popularized the gesture last year, said he settled on kneeling as a form of protest because it is widely seen as a gesture of respect.

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