Drew Brees

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) kneels down with teammates before the U.S. national anthem was played ahead of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium in London, Sunday Oct. 1, 2017. Saints players then stood when the anthem was played. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland) ORG XMIT: TH127

Matt Dunham

After weeks of controversy surrounding national anthem protests by NFL players, a letter from Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league "believes everyone should stand for the anthem."

The letter, obtained and posted to Facebook by ESPN's Adam Schefter, was sent to each NFL team on Tuesday, according to the post. The message came after weeks or criticism by President Donald Trump, and days after Vice President Mike Pence said he left a game between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers due to the demonstrations. 

"We live in a country that can feel very divided. Sports, and especially the NFL, brings people together and lets them set aside those divisions, at least for a few hours. The current dispute over the National Anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country," began the message. 

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Protests, which began in the 2016 season with then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, hit their peak in the days following Trump's initial criticism. Members of 18 different teams kneeled during the anthem, and all 32 NFL teams protested in some way. Several members of the New Orleans Saints sat during the anthem in their Week 3 game against the Carolina Panthers.

An analysis by The Advocate showed that Facebook followings for 28 of the 32 NFL teams saw a marked decrease in the days immediately following that week's protests. Multiple sports bars in Louisiana said they wouldn't show the Saints game the following week, a Lafayette beer distributor said it would no longer sell Saints or NFL branded items, and players Kenny Vaccaro and Alex Okafor were disinvited as a grand marshals for the Krewe of Poseidon's parade in January. 

In the week following, against the Miami Dolphins in London, Saints players kneeled before the anthem but rose to stand during it. 

Goodell's letter indicated there would be a discussion over creating an outlet for players to demonstrate on "core issues" at the upcoming league meeting. 

"Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem. It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players," continued the letter. 

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