Chargers lineman rips NFL owner-player meetings on anthem protests as 'disingenuous' and 'unproductive'

The recent New York meetings between NFL owners and players were viewed by many as a positive step towards reaching an understanding, but not everyone agreed with that assessment.

Russell Okung, an eight-year veteran who has made nearly 100 starts in his career, showed up to the meetings under the impression that those in attendance would be taking significant actions, but "that wasn't true at all." Instead, the offensive lineman encountered a group of owners and league officials who seemed indifferent about player concerns.

"I am disappointed that further progress has not been reached on discussions with the league," Okung said, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. "NFL officials appear unmotivated and don't share the same sense of urgency. Increasingly, the meetings appear unproductive at best and disingenuous at worst. Furthermore, the ongoing disparagement of Colin Kaepernick is a factor needing remedy for the players and public to feel heard and for real progress to be made."

Players, owners, and league officials met in light of the NFL's recent wave of national anthem protests at a regularly-scheduled owners meeting on October 17. They discussed the protests themselves, as well as other potential methods of promoting player causes and community involvement. Okung was joined by a group that included stars like Michael Thomas, Josh Norman, and Chris Long, as well as the NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and president Eric Winston.

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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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While a number of reforms were reportedly discussed, Okung said that league officials weren't as enthusiastic as they could have been.

"It's disappointing, because anytime the NFL says it cares about something, like breast cancer awareness, domestic violence, concussions, it comes out in force," he said. "So far we haven't seen that."

Soon after the meetings, ESPN obtained a memo distributed by Arthur McAfee, the NFL's senior vice president of player engagement. He wrote that those involved discussed "criminal justice reform, law enforcement, community engagement, and collaboration." He also outlined three distinct arenas in which the players and owners agreed to pursue changes: "Media Amplification and Platform Development," "Community Engagement and Education," and "Public Policy and Government Affairs."

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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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While Okung was dissatisfied with the meetings, others, like Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, took a more favorable view.

"We felt like the meeting went really well ... Conversations will continue, the dialogue will continue," he said to the media. "As players we'll continue to work in our communities because we feel like that's the most American thing to do, to use your platform and influence."

Jenkins wasn't the only one who was happy with how the meetings went. At least one owner, Arthur Blank of the Falcons, was also pleased.

"I told [commissioner] Roger Goodell this, and I said it to all the owners this afternoon — I thought this was one of the most open and productive meetings I’ve been in, maybe ever, in any business I’ve been involved with," he said, according to Peter King of Sports Illustrated. "And I’m 75 years old."

The next round of meetings is set for next week, and it could be a big one: unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the player who popularized the national anthem protests, is set to attend, according to a report from Yahoo's Charles Robinson.

With players like Kaepernick and Jenkins leading the way, those meetings should be significant, but if Okung is right about league officials' level of interest — or if his comments sour fellow players on having a dialogue with the NFL at all — they may not be of much consequence. The meetings will begin early next week.

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