Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones became the first NFL owner to pick up President Donald Trump's assertion that any player that protested during the national anthem should not be allowed to play. After the Cowboys lost Sunday against the Green Bay Packers 35-31, Jones declared if Cowboys players wanted to demonstrate, they would not play.
"If we are disrespecting the flag then we won't play. Period," Jones said, the Dallas Morning News reported. "We're going to respect the flag, and I'm going to create the perception of it."
Jones spent seven minutes of the post-game media address demanding his players stand during the anthem. The rant was a confirmation of Trump's urges during a political rally in Alabama in late September, where he said: "Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now.'" Trump added, that the owners, "They’re friends of mine, many of them." Jones donated $1 million to Trump's presidential campaign.
But on September 25, directly after Trump's controversial statement, and when every NFL team participated in some form of protest or display of solidarity, Jones and the entire Cowboys team linked arms and briefly took a knee before the national anthem. No Cowboys player has kneeled since. "We know that there is a serious debate in this country about those issues," Jones said following Sunday's game. "But there is no question in my mind that the National Football League and the Dallas Cowboys are going to stand up for the flag. Just so we're clear." He added, "The whole deal is political and incited by politics."
Jones' adamance about Cowboys players standing during the anthem may have come from a conversation with Trump. Dallas Morning News reported that Trump called Jones after the team's demonstration to inform him that there is an NFL policy that states players must stand, face the flag and not talk during the national anthem. Jones said Trump told him, "This could have all been resolved."
Though it is unclear what rule Jones or the president are talking about — or whether it exists — the Cowboys' owner added, "The league in my mind should absolutely take the rules we've got on the books and make sure that we do not give the perception that we're disrespecting the flag."
As Jones took a hard line on players who kneel during the national anthem, he showed extreme leniency when it came to accusations of domestic violence. Former Cowboys player Greg Hardy was found guilty of assault against his girlfriend in 2014. The case was thrown out on appeal, after the victim stopped working with prosecutors, but the Cowboys signed him for a year anyway.
Cowboys players Damontre Moore and David Irving raised their fists at the end of the national anthem, but remained standing alongside their teammates Sunday. Moore, who has raised his fist the last three games, and has family members in the military, said he does not see it as disrespectful to the flag. He told Pro Football Talk, "It's just something that I do." He continued, "I've got my morals. I've got my values and my things that I think about. I don’t want to cause no attention to nobody else and bring unwanted attention, but on the same token, you know, there’s certain things that people are doing it for."
Raising a fist during the anthem has become a compelling alternative for NFL players who want to protest but feel pressured by their coaches, team owners or president to not take a knee. In fact, while Jones is currently the only owner who publicized his stance that players who kneeled would be disciplined, according to the Root, many owners, managers and coaches across the NFL have "warned" players not to take a knee. Eight anonymous players and coaches spoke to the Root before this past weekend's NFL games.
"They didn’t say what would happen," one NFL linebacker, from a team whose owners donated to the Trump campaign told the Root. "But they let us know that we are expected to stand during the anthem." One coach said the general manager of their team requested he find out which players planned to kneel and to "talk to them" or talk them out of it.
"Out of all the players you see taking a knee, there are probably three times as many who want to do it but are scared," he told the Root. "If you ain’t a 1 or 2 at your position [referring to first or second-string players] you ain’t doing it. People have to feed they family."
The heat against NFL players who kneel to protest police brutality and racial injustice was further inflamed by Vice President Mike Pence this weekend, who walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game after 23 San Francisco 49ers players kneeled during the "Star Spangled Banner." He said in a statement, "I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem." But it was later revealed that the exit was an orchestrated stunt in cahoots with Trump, who took credit for the whole thing on Twitter Sunday. As media outlets theorized about the pre-planned nature of the walkout, Trump confirmed Monday that "The trip by @VP was long planned."
The NFL Players Association responded to Pence's statement with one of their own, standing firmly behind any player who wanted to take a knee or protest in any way. "We should not stifle these discussions and cannot allow our rights to become subservient to the very opinions our Constitution protects," the Association wrote.
— George Atallah (@GeorgeAtallah) October 9, 2017
Jones himself spoke about the Vice President's protest. "I'm saying our vice president, if in his opinion, there's disrespect of the flag then he should express himself however he wants to say," he said noting Pence's freedom of speech. "He's got rights, too." For the moment, however, Jones' players do not share in those rights.