NFL players and owners met in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday to discuss the players' controversial national anthem protests.

Before their regularly scheduled annual fall meeting, a group of players, union leaders, and team owners joined commissioner Roger Goodell, discussing topics that included enhancing players' platforms for speaking out on social issues.

A statement from the NFL said the meeting was productive, adding the league is coming together to find common ground and commit to the hard work required for positive change.

Protesters gathered outside, urging team owners to respect the players' right to free expression.

"If the league heeds the president's insistence that these protests be squashed, we see that as potentially being a major violation of the First Amendment," said Kyle Dacuyan of Pen America.

Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked the debate, after first sitting and later kneeling during the national anthem last season to protest police brutality.

President Trump re-invigorated the debate last month by urging owners to fire players for taking the knee, saying the protest was disrespectful to the flag and military.