The Denver Broncos have revamped their backfield

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Jackhammers and buzz saws nearly drowned out the coaches hollering during OTAs this week at Denver Broncos headquarters, which is undergoing a makeover this spring.

Upgrades include a massive new theater for team meetings and an expansion of the training room.

Another thing the Broncos are remodeling is their backfield.

It’s hardly recognizable following the departures of veterans C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles along with longtime position coach Eric Studesville, one of six assistants fired after last season.

Curtis Modkins, who tutored 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Howard in Chicago last season, replaced Studesville, Miami’s new run game coordinator who served four head coaches in his eight years in Denver.

Charles wasn’t re-signed after one season in Denver, and the Broncos released sixth-year pro Anderson , their leading rusher, to save $9 million. He signed with the Carolina Panthers.

That leaves not a single running back in Denver who has ever posted a 100-yard game in the NFL.

It’s a backfield bursting with energy, if not enthusiasm.

“We’re all young,” third-year pro Devontae Booker said. “We can go out there and take it to the house at any time.”

Booker didn’t start a single game last year, and second-year pro De’Angelo “Hop” Henderson carried seven times as a rookie. But with fullback Andy Janovich known more for busting helmets than tackles, they’re the ones getting peppered with questions from a trio of rookies.

“It’s crazy,” said Booker, who turns 26 Sunday. “I think Hop’s the same age as me, but I’ve been here longer.”

The Broncos selected Royce Freeman from Oregon in the second round of the NFL draft and Arkansas’ David Williams in the seventh before adding Colorado’s Phillip Lindsay, who went undrafted.

Booker isn’t acting like he’s suddenly ascended to the top of the depth chart, either.

“We’ve got four or five backs competing to be the guy, so he’s got to come out and work and earn the right to be the guy,” coach Vance Joseph said. “Obviously, he understands that with C.J. gone, it’s a wide-open race. He’s excited about that and he should take a step forward.”

No matter who emerges as the Broncos’ lead back, there will be plenty of carries to go around.

“Someone’s got to be the starter, but I think to have a great running game, you have to have two or three guys,” Joseph said. “I think also (important is) having a third-down back, a guy who can be great in protections, catch the ball out of the backfield and beat linebackers one on one.”

Booker, for one, wouldn’t mind sharing snaps.

“Running back by committee,” Booker said. “If it happens like that, I’m all for it.”

Here’s a look at the running backs jockeying for carries in 2018:

DEVONTAE BOOKER : Coming off an injury-marred season, he was expecting to share snaps this season — with Anderson.

“It was crazy, because the first day we got back, that’s when everything happened. I had just seen him. We were doing physicals and the next thing I know” he’s been released, Booker said. “It was shocking to me, but at the end of the day it’s a business. Best of luck to C.J.”

DE’ANGELO HENDERSON : The speedster from Coastal Carolina escaped serious injury when a drunken driver totaled his Jeep last week.

“It definitely makes you appreciate everything more,” Henderson said. “After I stopped, I was like, I’m lucky. I’ve got a newborn son, I got a fiancee. I’ve got a family that really cares about me and teammates that are counting on me this year.”

ROYCE FREEMAN : Freeman’s high football odometer — 947 rushes, 79 catches in college — didn’t scare off the Broncos: “What it shows to us is he’s durable,” general manager John Elway said.

Freeman agrees his college workload shouldn’t be a concern.

“It is not often you get backs playing as many games or taking as many carries,” Freeman said. “I feel like the fact that I was able to do so proves I am a durable running back.”

DAVID WILLIAMS : He’s embracing the crowded running back room, saying he enjoys competing for carries.

“It’s actually a great situation,” Williams said. “If it was me in college, I would go to this school, if this was a school, because the situation is good. I’m just blessed to be able to have the opportunity to be in this situation.”

PHILLIP LINDSAY : In all but one of the last 14 seasons, an undrafted college free agent has made the Broncos’ 53-man roster, and this Denver native is a good bet to continue that trend.

He’s out to wow the coaching staff as a rusher, receiver and returner.

“I’m just going to showcase everything,” said the former Buffaloes standout known as the “Tasmanian Devil” for his relentless motor.

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Buffalo Bills receiver Zay Jones has knee surgery

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills receiver Zay Jones has had knee surgery that will prevent him from participating in the team’s series of spring practices.

Coach Sean McDermott wouldn’t discuss the nature of the injury or which knee was operated on in providing the update Thursday, when the Bills closed a three-day voluntary minicamp. He also didn’t have a timetable for when Jones could resume practicing, but said he’s not concerned about the rehab process extending into the season.

McDermott said the injury had been bothering Jones for some time, and the team and player decided to have surgery as soon as possible.

It’s the second operation for Jones, who had surgery in January to repair a shoulder injury.

Jones was Buffalo’s second-round pick out of East Carolina, and struggled to make a consistent impact in his rookie season. He finished with 27 catches for 314 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games, including 10 starts.

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NFL Calendar

July 16 — Deadline for any club that designated franchise player to sign that player to a multiyear contract or extension.

Aug. 2 — Hall of Fame game, Chicago vs. Baltimore at Canton, Ohio.

Aug. 5 — Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Canton, Ohio.

Aug. 9-13 — First weekend of preseason.

Sept. 1 — Final cutdown to 53-man roster.

Sept. 6 — Regular season opens: Atlanta at Philadelphia.

Sept. 9-10 — First weekend of regular season.

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Column: Score one for Jerry Jones and billionaire owners

NFL owners were busy handing out prizes at their meeting in Atlanta, doling out Super Bowls to various cities and giving Nashville the 2019 draft.

Then they gave one to themselves: A new anthem policy adopted with the fervent hope that the protests sparked by Colin Kaepernick will go away and the golden goose that is the NFL will continue to soar untouched.

Stay in the locker room if you wish during the national anthem. But don’t even think about kneeling on the sideline where you can be seen.

This wasn’t an attempt to settle a real issue, not even close. This was strictly for self-preservation and to keep any protest off the TV cameras and away from the prying eyes of the current tenant of the White House.

And guess what? It just might work.

Not for the players, who will lose whatever rights they had left. But they’ve always been expendable anyway, in a league that for years stood by doing nothing as their brains were scrambled by hits on the field.

No, this one is for Jerry Jones and his fellow billionaires.

They’re the ones who want desperately to move any protests about social injustice to the locker room, where no one but the towel guy will notice. They’re the ones who called the new policy a compromise, yet made no real concessions to protesting players and didn’t even bother consulting the players’ union on the plan.

Their new rules are as simple as they are absolute: If you want to protest, do so by staying in the locker room during the national anthem.

Then get your rear out there and play a game.

Vice President Mike Pence was quick to cheer, sending out a tweet with the hashtag #Winning. It was President Donald Trump himself who really put the heat on NFL owners last season by saying it was a disgrace to allow players to take a knee during the anthem.

Then as television ratings sank and sponsors started to get nervous, owners figured they had better move to protect their cash cow.

Meanwhile, players have little choice but to accept it — assuming they wish to remain employed.

“That’s their decision to make,” Redskins corner Josh Norman said. “They’ve pretty much got the teams. They make those decisions. We just got to go through with it, I guess.”

Though the NFL was quick to triumph the fact the new policy passed by a unanimous vote, it’s clear some owners are not as comfortable with it as others. The Buffalo Bills issued a statement saying they would rather work closely with players on social issues than issue fines for kneeling during the anthem, and the head of Kaepernick’s former team said his team abstained from the vote.

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York went a step further by saying other measures might also be taken, including a suspension of all concession sales during the national anthem.

“If we want to be sacrosanct, if we want to honor the flag, we’ve got to make sure we go through a litany of things,” York said. “We’re not going to force people to stand in their seats, but we’re certainly going to make sure we’re not profiting during that two or three minutes of time during the game.”

That, at least, is a step in the right direction. If players can’t kneel during the anthem, there’s no reason the beer guy should be able to keep pouring $12 brews.

Let’s just hope the anthem police have some sympathy for fans who might forget to take off their hats during the song.

So now the game will move on from who is kneeling on the sideline to who is in the locker room during the anthem. Fans and television cameras will scan the sidelines to see who is missing, and those who want to make political hay of it on either side will duly take note.

In the long run, though, the issue will likely fade away, just like NFL owners want it to. And that may not be such a bad thing, since the original purpose of highlighting social injustice has become twisted instead into a debate over the patriotism of NFL players.

Most of them are very patriotic indeed, just like most of the fans who watch them. They also have the right to speak up and protest outside their workplace, just like the fans who watch them.

But the bottom line is that NFL owners have every right to protect their business. They pay the salaries, and they decide the rules.

Now everyone else can decide whether they want to keep playing along.

____

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

What's next? NFL sparks new questions with anthem policy

ATLANTA (AP) — With its popularity threatened and critics stretching all the way to the White House, the NFL just wanted to get past the debate over taking a knee during the national anthem.

Put the focus back on football.

Instead, the league seemed to muddle the divisive issue even more with a new policy that stirred up defenders of free speech, prompted a couple of owners to quickly backtrack and raised all sorts of potential questions heading into next season.

After a tumultuous season, NFL owners wrapped up their spring meeting in Atlanta by announcing Wednesday that players would be required to stand for the national anthem if they’re on the field before a game, but gave them the option of staying in the locker room if they wanted to carry on the Colin Kaepernick-inspired campaign against police brutality and social injustice.

Commissioner Roger Goodell called it a compromise that respected the wishes of everyone, from those who consider “The Star-Spangled Banner” a sacred part of the American experience to those who believe the right to protest during the anthem is also in the best tradition of a free but imperfect society.

Yet, it was clear to everyone that the owners wanted to quell a firestorm by moving any further protests away from the public eye — especially if it lured back disgruntled fans while appeasing President Donald Trump and his vocal base of support.

Kneel if you like.

But stay out of sight.

“This is a fear of the diminished bottom line,” said defensive end Chris Long of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles . “It’s also fear of a president turning his base against a corporation. This is not patriotism. Don’t get it confused. These owners don’t love America more than the players demonstrating and taking real action to improve it.”

Trump addressed the issue during a political campaign, saying the NFL should fire any players who kneel during the anthem . He had no immediate comment on the new policy, but Vice President Mike Pence called it “a win for the fans, a win for (the president), and a win for America.”

The NFL didn’t consult the players’ union on its new policy, though Goodell stressed that the league had talked to countless players over the past year and was committed both financially and philosophically to the fight for social justice .

“We want people to be respectful of the national anthem. We want people to stand,” Goodell said. “We’ve been very sensitive on making sure that we give players choices, but we do believe that moment is an important moment and one that we are going to focus on.”

In an attempt to quell a potential challenge from the NFL Players Association, the league said any violations of the new rules would result in fines against teams — not individual players.

But the league also gave teams the option of developing their own workplace rules, which many players interpreted as a backhanded way of subjecting them to fines — or worse — should they carry on with the protests.

“If the team says ‘this is what we’re doing,’ and ownership (does too), you either deal with it or you’re probably going to get cut,” Pittsburgh Steelers guard Ramon Foster said.

The head of the NFLPA, DeMaurice Smith , angrily denounced the NFL’s decision and called it a blow against America’s most basic rights — freedom of speech.

Since the new policy is a change in the terms and conditions of employment that was not collectively bargained, any attempts to fine individual players would surely be opposed by the union.

“History has taught us that both patriotism and protest are like water; if the force is strong enough it cannot be suppressed,” Smith wrote on Twitter. “The CEOs of the NFL created a rule that people who hate autocracies should reject.”

But many players are mindful that Kaepernick, who began the protest movement in 2016 during his final year at quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, didn’t play at all last season and still hasn’t been picked up by another team . They’re also aware of the plight faced by safety Eric Reid, one of Kaepernick’s former teammates and another protest leader, who is also out of work with the upcoming season just a few months away.

Both have filed collusion grievances against the NFL .

Washington defensive back Josh Norman said the owners have a right to decide what the players can and cannot do, a sentiment shared by many of his colleagues around the league.

“They’ve pretty much got the teams,” Norman said. “They make those decisions. We’ve just got to go through with it, I guess.”

A handful of outspoken players vowed to carry on the cause, including Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.

“I will not let it silence me or stop me from fighting,” he said. “This has never been about taking a knee, raising a fist or anyone’s patriotism, but doing what we can to effect real change for real people.”

While Goodell said the new policy was unanimously approved by the owners, CEO Jed York of the 49ers — Kaepernick’s former team — contradicted the commissioner by saying he abstained. York said he didn’t feel comfortable making a decision without directly involving the players’ union.

New York Jets owner Christopher Johnson took a similar approach. He said his team will pay any fines doled out by the league, without passing on punishment to the players.

“I will support our players wherever we land as a team,” Johnson said. “Our focus is not on imposing any club rules, fines or restrictions.”

So, what happens next?

The NFL just wants the issue to go away.

Instead, it raised a whole new batch of questions.

___

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry

___

For more AP NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

Column: Score one for Jerry Jones and billionaire owners

NFL owners were busy handing out prizes at their meeting in Atlanta, doling out Super Bowls to various cities and giving Nashville the 2019 draft.

Then they gave one to themselves: A new anthem policy adopted with the fervent hope that the protests sparked by Colin Kaepernick will go away and the golden goose that is the NFL will continue to soar untouched.

Stay in the locker room if you wish during the national anthem. But don’t even think about kneeling on the sideline where you can be seen.

This wasn’t an attempt to settle a real issue, not even close. This was strictly for self-preservation and to keep any protest off the TV cameras and away from the prying eyes of the current tenant of the White House.

And guess what? It just might work.

Not for the players, who will lose whatever rights they had left. But they’ve always been expendable anyway, in a league that for years stood by doing nothing as their brains were scrambled by hits on the field.

No, this one is for Jerry Jones and his fellow billionaires.

They’re the ones who want desperately to move any protests about social injustice to the locker room, where no one but the towel guy will notice. They’re the ones who called the new policy a compromise, yet made no real concessions to protesting players and didn’t even bother consulting the players’ union on the plan.

Their new rules are as simple as they are absolute: If you want to protest, do so by staying in the locker room during the national anthem.

Then get your rear out there and play a game.

Vice President Mike Pence was quick to cheer, sending out a tweet with the hashtag #Winning. It was President Donald Trump himself who really put the heat on NFL owners last season by saying it was a disgrace to allow players to take a knee during the anthem.

Then as television ratings sank and sponsors started to get nervous, owners figured they had better move to protect their cash cow.

Meanwhile, players have little choice but to accept it — assuming they wish to remain employed.

“That’s their decision to make,” Redskins corner Josh Norman said. “They’ve pretty much got the teams. They make those decisions. We just got to go through with it, I guess.”

Though the NFL was quick to triumph the fact the new policy passed by a unanimous vote, it’s clear some owners are not as comfortable with it as others. The Buffalo Bills issued a statement saying they would rather work closely with players on social issues than issue fines for kneeling during the anthem, and the head of Kaepernick’s former team said his team abstained from the vote.

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York went a step further by saying other measures might also be taken, including a suspension of all concession sales during the national anthem.

“If we want to be sacrosanct, if we want to honor the flag, we’ve got to make sure we go through a litany of things,” York said. “We’re not going to force people to stand in their seats, but we’re certainly going to make sure we’re not profiting during that two or three minutes of time during the game.”

That, at least, is a step in the right direction. If players can’t kneel during the anthem, there’s no reason the beer guy should be able to keep pouring $12 brews.

Let’s just hope the anthem police have some sympathy for fans who might forget to take off their hats during the song.

So now the game will move on from who is kneeling on the sideline to who is in the locker room during the anthem. Fans and television cameras will scan the sidelines to see who is missing, and those who want to make political hay of it on either side will duly take note.

In the long run, though, the issue will likely fade away, just like NFL owners want it to. And that may not be such a bad thing, since the original purpose of highlighting social injustice has become twisted instead into a debate over the patriotism of NFL players.

Most of them are very patriotic indeed, just like most of the fans who watch them. They also have the right to speak up and protest outside their workplace, just like the fans who watch them.

But the bottom line is that NFL owners have every right to protect their business. They pay the salaries, and they decide the rules.

Now everyone else can decide whether they want to keep playing along.

____

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

49ers' Foster won't stand trial on domestic violence charges

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — A Santa Clara County judge ruled Wednesday that San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster will not have to stand trial on domestic violence charges after determining there was no evidence that Foster ever hit his ex-girlfriend.

Judge Nona Klippen said prosecutors didn’t meet the burden of probable cause on charges of felony domestic violence and forcefully attempting to dissuade a witness.

Foster was also charged with felony possession of an assault weapon after officers found a Sig Sauer 516 short-barreled rifle in his home while investigating his ex-girlfriend’s domestic violence report. That charge was reduced to a misdemeanor.

The 49ers have not allowed Foster to take part in the offseason program while he dealt with these charges and general manager John Lynch had said he would be cut from the team if it was determined that he hit a woman. Foster will be allowed back Thursday now that the domestic violence charges have been dropped.

“It has been made clear to Reuben that his place on this team is one that must continue to be earned,” Lynch said. “We will continue to monitor the remaining misdemeanor charge.”

The prosecutor’s office released a statement expressing disappointment in the judge’s decision.

“We are disappointed because the evidence demonstrated that Mr. Foster seriously hurt his girlfriend,” the statement said. “Some have wondered why we still think Mr. Foster hurt his girlfriend when she said that he didn’t. Recantation is common among domestic violence victims. Some are scared, some feel guilty, some are coerced, some need money. Whatever the cause, we move forward on cases when victims falsely recant because we know that if we don’t more victims will be hurt.”

The accuser, Elissa Ennis, recanted her accusations two days after telling police she was hit in the head eight to 10 times by Foster. She testified at a preliminary hearing last week that the injuries were caused by a fight with another woman and she gave prosecutors video of that fight. She said she lied initially because she wanted retribution after Foster tried to end their relationship.

Klippen said recantations aren’t uncommon in domestic violence cases but said there was no supporting evidence in this case that Foster had attacked Ennis.

“The injuries appear more consistent with a fight with another woman on a street than with being hit in the head by this defendant,” Klippen said while ruling from the bench.

Klippen also pointed to the fact that Ennis appeared “unusually calm” while making a second 911 call reporting the incident. A bystander who gave her a phone to make the call testified she wasn’t frantic and didn’t appear to have serious injuries, and there was no evidence of prior abuse. Ennis also testified that she had made false allegations in another case after a boyfriend broke up with her.

Prosecutor Kevin Smith had no comment while leaving the courthouse after the ruling and Foster only gave a thumbs-up before getting into a car with his attorney.

The 49ers drafted Foster 31st overall last year after questions about his health and character caused him to drop from being a possible top 10 pick.

Foster delivered on the field, ranking second on the team with 72 tackles in 10 games as a rookie and looking like a key part of San Francisco’s defensive future.

“I’m excited to get him back, give him a hug and move forward,” left tackle Joe Staley said.

Foster was charged in January in Alabama with second-degree marijuana possession before the incident in February that led to this case. Foster is due in court next month for a hearing in his marijuana case.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league will “continue to monitor all developments in the matter which remains under review.”

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

Critics: NFL decision chooses mainstream appeal over players

WASHINGTON (AP) — With its decision to ban kneeling during the national anthem, critics are accusing the NFL of prioritizing being in the good financial graces of mainstream America over the social justice passions of its players trying to draw attention to the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police.

Some opponents of the new policy now vow to never watch an NFL game again.

The NFL’s new anthem policy — similar to NBA rules in place for decades — makes the athletes stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” or be absent from the field while it’s played.

Critics say the league acted without input from its majority-black players and buckled to pressure from some major advertisers and even President Donald Trump, who rallied his mostly-white base against players for failing to display their patriotism, shifting the debate from social justice for minorities to how to act during the anthem itself. Others, including some players, applauded the league’s action or took no issue with the policy.

“I think they made this decision to placate Donald Trump and those like him who blindly equate standing for the national anthem with patriotism,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “The country I want is a country where everyone wants to stand for the national anthem,” Richmond said, emphasizing the word “wants.”

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted “#Winning” and declared the decision “a win for the fans, a win for (President Trump), and a win for America.”

The NFL started requiring players in the league to be on the field for the anthem in 2009 — the year it signed a marketing deal with the military. Its new rule passed Wednesday permits players to stay in the locker room during the “The Star-Spangled Banner” but requires them to stand if they come to the field.

Taking a knee during the anthem has been an issue since August 2016, when now-unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick started protesting the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police. The issue bubbled over from the field into living rooms as other players joined the movement, and morphed into a larger discussion last fall when Trump called on NFL owners to fire players who did not stand during the national anthem.

“This is white supremacy, period. A blatant and disgusting attempt to strip black athletes of their voice and reduce them to a number on a jersey — all while continuing to profit off of their bodies,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of advocacy group Color of Change.

Bree Newsome, who climbed a pole to snatch down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina statehouse in 2015, tweeted: “For the white-owned NFL to blackball Kaepernick & then change policy to specifically target Black athletes’ protest of racism is not simply a matter of football. It is about using one of the largest stages in America to reinforce racial caste in USA.”

Civil rights groups denounced the decision.

“Instead of working together to address an issue disproportionately plaguing the communities of the majority of NFL players, the owners instead desire that players bury their heads, shut up, and just play football,” NAACP chairman Derrick Johnson said.

Kaepernick and other NFL players who kneeled said their protests were over the shootings and other mistreatment of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement. The quarterback was not resigned by the San Francisco 49ers after beginning his protest and has not played for an NFL team since. He has filed a grievance against the league, as has out of work safety and fellow protester Eric Reid.

Calls to boycott the NFL because of the anthem decision started immediately online. NFL fans previously had threatened to boycott the NFL because players were kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner, and others said they wouldn’t watch until Kaepernick was signed by a team. Now a new group is promising not to watch pro football games.

“As a former NFL player I am extremely conflicted but more than likely will not be supporting anymore until this is resolved amongst other issues,” said Matthew A. Cherry, who played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers and the Baltimore Ravens.

The NFL Players Association said it would challenge any changes that violate the collective bargaining agreement.

“This is fear of a diminished bottom line. It’s also fear of a president turning his base against a corporation,” Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long said on Twitter . “This is not patriotism. Don’t get it confused. These owners don’t love America more than the players demonstrating and taking real action to improve it. It also lets you, the fan, know where our league stands.”

Cardinals safety Antoine Bethea, a 12-year NFL veteran, said “fining players for really expressing what they believe, I think that’s kind of overboard.”

Others said they approved of the compromise.

“I’m going to stand for the national anthem,” Denver defensive end Derek Wolfe said. “Whatever anybody else wants to do, that’s their decision and they have the right to their opinion. So, they can do whatever they want — as long as they stay in the locker room, I guess.”

Pittsburgh Steelers guard Ramon Foster shrugged his shoulders when asked about the policy and said that in a way, players are powerless.

“If the team says, ‘This is what we’re doing,’ and ownership (does too), you either deal with it or you’re probably going to get cut,” Foster said.

___

AP sports writers Will Graves in Pittsburgh, Bob Baum in Phoenix, Arnie Stapleton in Denver, Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia.

___

Jesse J. Holland covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. Contact him at jholland@ap.org, on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jessejholland or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jessejholland . You can read his stories at AP at http://bit.ly/storiesbyjessejholland

Critics: NFL decision chooses mainstream appeal over players

WASHINGTON (AP) — With its decision to ban kneeling during the national anthem, critics are accusing the NFL of prioritizing being in the good financial graces of mainstream America over the social justice passions of its players trying to draw attention to the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police.

Some opponents of the new policy now vow to never watch an NFL game again.

The NFL’s new anthem policy — similar to NBA rules in place for decades — makes the athletes stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” or be absent from the field while it’s played.

Critics say the league acted without input from its majority-black players and buckled to pressure from some major advertisers and even President Donald Trump, who rallied his mostly-white base against players for failing to display their patriotism, shifting the debate from social justice for minorities to how to act during the anthem itself. Others, including some players, applauded the league’s action or took no issue with the policy.

“I think they made this decision to placate Donald Trump and those like him who blindly equate standing for the national anthem with patriotism,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “The country I want is a country where everyone wants to stand for the national anthem,” Richmond said, emphasizing the word “wants.”

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted “#Winning” and declared the decision “a win for the fans, a win for (President Trump), and a win for America.”

The NFL started requiring players in the league to be on the field for the anthem in 2009 — the year it signed a marketing deal with the military. Its new rule passed Wednesday permits players to stay in the locker room during the “The Star-Spangled Banner” but requires them to stand if they come to the field.

Taking a knee during the anthem has been an issue since August 2016, when now-unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick started protesting the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police. The issue bubbled over from the field into living rooms as other players joined the movement, and morphed into a larger discussion last fall when Trump called on NFL owners to fire players who did not stand during the national anthem.

“This is white supremacy, period. A blatant and disgusting attempt to strip black athletes of their voice and reduce them to a number on a jersey — all while continuing to profit off of their bodies,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of advocacy group Color of Change.

Bree Newsome, who climbed a pole to snatch down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina statehouse in 2015, tweeted: “For the white-owned NFL to blackball Kaepernick & then change policy to specifically target Black athletes’ protest of racism is not simply a matter of football. It is about using one of the largest stages in America to reinforce racial caste in USA.”

Civil rights groups denounced the decision.

“Instead of working together to address an issue disproportionately plaguing the communities of the majority of NFL players, the owners instead desire that players bury their heads, shut up, and just play football,” NAACP chairman Derrick Johnson said.

Kaepernick and other NFL players who kneeled said their protests were over the shootings and other mistreatment of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement. The quarterback was not resigned by the San Francisco 49ers after beginning his protest and has not played for an NFL team since. He has filed a grievance against the league, as has out of work safety and fellow protester Eric Reid.

Calls to boycott the NFL because of the anthem decision started immediately online. NFL fans previously had threatened to boycott the NFL because players were kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner, and others said they wouldn’t watch until Kaepernick was signed by a team. Now a new group is promising not to watch pro football games.

“As a former NFL player I am extremely conflicted but more than likely will not be supporting anymore until this is resolved amongst other issues,” said Matthew A. Cherry, who played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers and the Baltimore Ravens.

The NFL Players Association said it would challenge any changes that violate the collective bargaining agreement.

“This is fear of a diminished bottom line. It’s also fear of a president turning his base against a corporation,” Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long said on Twitter . “This is not patriotism. Don’t get it confused. These owners don’t love America more than the players demonstrating and taking real action to improve it. It also lets you, the fan, know where our league stands.”

Cardinals safety Antoine Bethea, a 12-year NFL veteran, said “fining players for really expressing what they believe, I think that’s kind of overboard.”

Others said they approved of the compromise.

“I’m going to stand for the national anthem,” Denver defensive end Derek Wolfe said. “Whatever anybody else wants to do, that’s their decision and they have the right to their opinion. So, they can do whatever they want — as long as they stay in the locker room, I guess.”

Pittsburgh Steelers guard Ramon Foster shrugged his shoulders when asked about the policy and said that in a way, players are powerless.

“If the team says, ‘This is what we’re doing,’ and ownership (does too), you either deal with it or you’re probably going to get cut,” Foster said.

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AP sports writers Will Graves in Pittsburgh, Bob Baum in Phoenix, Arnie Stapleton in Denver, Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia.

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Jesse J. Holland covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. Contact him at jholland@ap.org, on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jessejholland or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jessejholland . You can read his stories at AP at http://bit.ly/storiesbyjessejholland

49ers' Foster won't stand trial on domestic violence charges

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — A Santa Clara County judge has ruled that San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster will not have to stand trial on domestic violence charges after the accuser recanted her allegations at a preliminary hearing.

Judge Nona Klippen said Wednesday that prosecutors didn’t meet the burden of probable cause on charges of felony domestic violence and forcefully attempting to dissuade a witness.

Foster was also charged with felony possession of an assault weapon after officers found a Sig Sauer 516 short-barreled rifle in his home while investigating his ex-girlfriend’s domestic violence report. That charge was reduced to a misdemeanor.

The 49ers have not allowed Foster to take part in the offseason program while he dealt with these charges and general manager John Lynch said he would be cut from the team if it was determined that he hit a woman.

Elissa Ennis testified last week that she lied to the police when she accused Foster of attacking her in February. She said she wanted retribution after Foster tried to end their relationship, saying she was angry “and I wanted to end him.” She testified that Foster never hit her.

Foster was arrested after Ennis told police he dragged her by her hair, physically threw her out of their house, and punched her in the head eight to 10 times in February.

Prosecutors had continued to pursue the case despite Ennis’ recantation. The prosecution said her testimony at last week’s hearing couldn’t be trusted given inconsistencies throughout.

Ennis testified that Foster broke up with her after she got into a fight with another woman during a road rage incident in San Francisco. She said her injuries resulted from that fight. A 22-second video clip of the fight was presented as evidence in the case.

During cross-examination by Foster’s attorney Joshua Bentley, Ennis said she went to jail in 2011 for falsely accusing an ex-boyfriend of domestic violence.

The 49ers drafted Foster 31st overall last year after questions about his health and character caused him to drop from being a possible top 10 pick.

Foster delivered on the field, ranking second on the team with 72 tackles in 10 games as a rookie and looking like a key part of San Francisco’s defensive future.

Foster then was charged in January in Alabama with second-degree marijuana possession before the incident in February that led to this case. Foster is due in court next month for a hearing in his marijuana case.

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