Dolphins head into preseason opener with no national anthem policy

The Miami Dolphins have been among the most prominent teams in the NFL’s controversy over players protesting racial inequality by demonstrating during the national anthem, and that story will continue in Thursday’s preseason opener against Tampa Bay.

The league laid down a policy in the spring that requires players to stand for the anthem or remain in off the field, but those rules are suspended while the NFL and the players union continue working toward a solution that satisfies both sides. That means there would be no league discipline if any players demonstrate Thursday night at Hard Rock Stadium.

Dolphins coach Adam Gase, who is frustrated about being caught between having to follow the owners’ rules and managing his players, isn’t going to discuss the issue with the team.

“I’m not instructing anybody for anything,” he said.

Gase was asked what he’ll do if a player kneels and replied, “Talk to somebody else about it. I’m coaching football. I’m not dealing with all this.”

For Gase’s part, he would rather this not be part of his job. He says he devotes little of his time and energy to anything other than football and is often unaware of what’s going on outside that sphere.

Miami has two players who have protested in defensive end Robert Quinn and wide receiver Kenny Stills. Quinn raised a fist during the anthem while playing for the Rams last year. Stills has been kneeling since Colin Kaepernick started the player protest movement in the 2016 season.

Quinn said he had “no idea” what the NFL’s expectations are for players at this point or whether it’s possible to be disciplined for it in the preseason. He has not had any conversations with teammates or Dolphins management about it.

When asked what he planned to do during Thursday’s anthem, Quinn said, “Have my free speech.” He did not specific whether that meant he would continue raising a fist.

“I’ve got my right to free speech,” he said. “That’s all.”

The Dolphins said Stills, one of the most media-friendly players on the team, would not be speaking to reporters after this morning’s practice.

Stills has disagreed with the league’s stance on player protests since the beginning and was unhappy when owners passed the latest rules without any input from players. He advocated for the league leaving the anthem unregulated. 

“Obviously I’d like to see there be no policy at all, and the guys have a choice to go out there and do what they want to, and we can support each other and the decisions we want to make,” he said last month.

Gase is especially close with Stills, who he considers a model player and employee, and has never expressed anything other than support for him and his causes.

Like the league itself, the Dolphins organization has struggled to navigate the national anthem issue.

When Stills, Michael Thomas, Arian Foster and Jelani Jenkins kneeled before the 2016 season opener in Seattle, owner Stephen Ross waited in the locker room after the game to speak to reporters in favor of those players. That continued the rest of the year.

The issue had somewhat died down heading into last season, and Stills no Miami players protested in the first game. Everything changed the following week, when Donald Trump called kneeling players “sons of bitches” who should be kicked out of the league. After those comments, six Dolphins players kneeled for the ensuing game against the Jets.

Ross remained supportive of the protests until October, when he said it was time for players to stand and his team enacted a rule that they had to stay in the locker room if they refused. Stills, Michael Thomas and Julius Thomas objected and brought their concerns to Gase, and the policy was reversed a few weeks later.

There have been various statements and backtracking since then, and it’s not clear at this point exactly where Ross stands. While he typically speaks to the media at the beginning of training camp, he has not been available this summer.

[Dolphins' Cordrea Tankersley is in a fierce battle for starting job at cornerback]

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