Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills vacationed this offseason in Africa, led several teammates on a training trip to Nebraska and returned to find the NFL's national anthem debate again at peak volume.
"We've got to clean up how things are looking," Stills said following the Dolphins' first training camp practice Thursday.
The sixth-year pro is part of the debate because he kneeled during the anthem the past two seasons and has been vocal discussing social justice issues that inspired the protest.
Stills would prefer the league had no anthem policy so players could do as they wished, and said he'll wait until a policy is set to decide what he'll do during the anthem this season.
"At some point before the season starts, the league and the players association are going to come to an agreement," he said. "And at that point I'll have a better idea what I'll be doing."
Last week the league and union issued a joint statement saying the two sides are still working on a resolution. Their statement came hours after The Associated Press reported Dolphins players who protest on the field during the anthem could be suspended for up to four games under a team policy issued last week.
The Dolphins subsequently issued a statement saying all options regarding the team's policy remain open.
On Thursday, coach Adam Gase said he doubted a Miami player would be suspended for protesting during the anthem.
"I mean, if anybody knew actual rules in the NFL, good luck suspending somebody," Gase said. "It takes about 5,000 things before anybody can get suspended by a club."
Gase said he doesn't see anthem issue as potentially divisive for his team.
"I think they do a good job of when issues come up, they get together and hammer it out," Gase said. "These guys aren't shy about speaking up. They've done a good job of making sure, as a group, they talk through things."
But the league hasn't been able to reach an agreement. On Wednesday, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he'll insist his players stand for the anthem.
Stills' reaction to Jones' comments?
"I wouldn't expect anything different," Stills said.
Stills said he hadn't spoken much with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross about the issue since last year. Ross didn't attend the first day of training camp.
Stills tuned out the anthem debate this offseason by traveling to Victoria Falls, Kruger National Park and Cape Town, where he learned about African culture, went on safaris and tried bungee jumping. More recently, he spent time in Lincoln, Nebraska, with other Dolphins wideouts and a receivers coach he has known since he was in the 10th grade.
"The anthem stuff was becoming a really quiet, quiet topic," Stills said.
No more. Defensive end Robert Quinn, who protested during the anthem while with the Rams last year, was asked following his first Dolphins practice what the league should do about a policy.
"I'll just say one thing: It's called freedom of speech," he said. "Simple as that."
Quinn, Stills and others have been targets of criticism for their protests, which they believe have been misconstrued as unpatriotic.
But Stills was nominated by teammates last year for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, a reflection of his standing in locker room. His latest community project is with the nationwide OK Program, which mentors young black men.
"I think I've done a good job of trying to figure out ways to continue to use my voice and platform for the right things," Stills said, "and put the messaging back in the right direction."