However, with the 49ers quarterback’s stance turning into a national issue debated well beyond the sports world, just about every NFL coach has been asked about it recently, and most were willing to offer an opinion. Naturally, San Francisco’s own Chip Kelly was immediately pressed for comment, and he said Saturday (via the San Jose Mercury News), “We recognize his right to do that. It’s not my right to tell him not to do something. That’s his right as a citizen.”
In contrast to Kelly, two head coaches averred they would be “disappointed” if one of their players sat down while “The Star-Spangled Banner” was being performed. “The way we operate for the national anthem, we consider it a small gesture to those who served and sacrificed their lives for our country and for us to play and coach in this great game,” Ben McAdoo of the Giants said (via NJ.com). “Part of that is the freedom of speech and we certainly respect that. We talked to our guys about keeping empathy in mind when they do lead and they do use this league as a platform. I’d be disappointed if one our guys chose not to stand. It’s their choice. It’s not mandatory, but we feel it’s important.”
“I would be disappointed if any of our players didn’t stand up for the national anthem, personally,” the Buccaneers’ Dirk Koetter said (via Pewter Report). “I look at that as a salute to the people who have paved the way for us. But at the same time it is a free country and I think freedom of speech is something we all believe in, and freedom of expression. That’s an individual’s choice. That’s a fine line there. I would personally be disappointed, but I think that would be hard to enforce that rule.”
Several coaches implied that it was their respective teams’ policies to have players stand for the anthem. “[We have a] ton of respect for what goes on for our country with [military personnel],” the Redskins’ Jay Gruden said. “For three minutes, for us to take our helmet off and stand up and give respect is how we treat it here with the Washington Redskins.”
“I think that’s an opportunity right there just to show respect, and I think that’s why when you see our team, every one of us are on that line and that’s kind of our way of giving thanks,” said the Bills’ Rex Ryan. He added, “Anytime I talk to my team about that, if there’s personal beliefs or whatever that keep you from doing it, I understand. But at the same time, you know, you’ve got to look at the gifts that we have, the opportunity that we have to play a great game is through the men and women that serve our country.”
According to Jack Del Rio of the Raiders (via CSN Bay Area), “Our organization believes that you should pay respect to the flag. Save those individual decisions to express yourself for an individual form. That’s how we feel.”
He added, “The best way to look it is that, in America, we as individuals all have freedoms. That’s one of the things that makes our country great. We may not always like or appreciate that someone is expressing themselves. For us, it’s more about recognizing that you’re part of an organization and you’re representing it.”
Del Rio also made his feelings known on social media, re-tweeting a Raiders player’s post of an American flag, with the word “Respect,” and adding his own sentiments.
The Rams’ Jeff Fisher had already made his feelings clear in a recent episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” which is chronicling his team’s training camp. “This is important to me,” Fisher was shown telling his players. “It’s a respect thing, okay? It’s a self-respect thing. It’s a respect for your teammates. It’s a respect for this game. It’s a respect for this country … It’s an opportunity to realize how lucky you are and what you’re doing.”
On Monday, Fisher claimed (via ESPN) that he would be “very, very surprised” if a Los Angeles player emulated Kaepernick. “I think our respect for the national anthem has been very, very well-documented, and we’re going to continue to have respect for the national anthem,” Fisher, in his fifth season with the Rams and his 22nd overall as an NFL head coach, said. “I’m not being critical of ‘Kap,’ he has every right to do that, but we have an organizational philosophy that has been in place for a long time with respect to the anthem.”
Other NFL head coaches said that they preferred for their players to stand for the anthem — with some making it clear that they strongly preferred that to be the case — but that they respected a decision to do otherwise or at least the freedom to make that choice. Here is a sampling of those comments.
Bruce Arians, Cardinals (via ABC 15): “I respect his right as an American. Freedom of speech is one thing. … I disagree with [his decision]. I want to stand and cheer for all the people who’ve lost their life of every religion, race, gender defending that flag. It’s not my opinion, but I respect his right.”
John Harbaugh, Ravens (via the Baltimore Sun): “I’m grateful for the right to express my displeasure. That’s what Colin chose to do, and it’s certainly his right to do it. … I respect him, respect his choice, whatever it is. … I tell our guys, if you’re going to say something publicly, think about it. Make sure you really believe that because when you speak out there, it’s out there, and it belongs to you now. The other part of it is, we’re a team, and anything we do, you respect our team, our organization and the other players, and you respect the mission that we’re on and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Ron Rivera, Panthers (via the Charlotte Observer): “Our guys know they’re supposed to stand at attention at the line. Again, the national anthem is a very personal thing for me, obviously for specific reasons — my father and my mother’s family and their service to this country. And that’s why I stand. It is something that I think … it has to be personal for each person. Again that’s what this country is based on, freedoms. You have the right to do what you want to do because that’s what those men and women fought for and sacrificed for and we should be grateful that.”
Gary Kubiak, Broncos (via Troy Renck): “I want our guys to stand for the national anthem. But we don’t babysit guys.”
Jim Caldwell, Lions (via MLive): “The fact of the matter is what we won’t do is we won’t mandate an action for [a player who chooses to sit out the anthem]. We won’t tell him to stand up, or tell him to sit down, or whatever that might be. Because he hasn’t done anything that’s against the law. … I don’t necessarily agree with what he did, but the fact of the matter is he’s open to express himself. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion in this country — that’s the great thing about this country.”
Mike McCarthy, Packers (via ESPN): “We talk about the national anthem each and every year prior to our first preseason game and how we conduct ourselves during the national anthem. But I think when you do get to a situation where there are social issues, I think everybody — players and coaches alike — feel there is a responsibility to stand up for that. With that, that’s where the communication between you and your football team takes place, and you respect each and every man for where they came from and who they are. With that, it’s more about not what they stand up for but really when. And I think those are the types of things that you work through.”
Jason Garrett, Cowboys (via the Dallas Morning News): “It’s a great tradition. It’s a great song. In a lot of cases it can become an emotional situation for all of us. You think about all the people who have fought for our country and allowed us to raise that flag as proudly as we do, to live in the greatest land in the world. It’s a special moment for all of us. We want to make sure we handle it the right way.”
Bill O’Brien, Texans (via the Houston Chronicle): “We encourage our players to stand for the national anthem to honor our country. … I’m not going to comment on any other team.”
Adam Gase, Dolphins (via the Palm Beach Post): “The only thing I’d say with that is what the league said as far as, every guy’s got their position on certain things. They’re able to express it in certain ways. There’s nothing that says they can’t do that. Our guys in our locker room, if they have certain stances they stand behind, then it’s not my right to say you can’t do that.”
Todd Bowles, Jets (via Newsday): “He has that right. Understand, a lot of people handle things differently. They have that right. People are fed up and they’re trying to get something done. That’s just one way he thought about doing it.”
Doug Pederson, Eagles (via Philly.com): “We respect the national anthem, its history and our many freedoms as Americans that it celebrates. We also respect an individual’s freedom of expression.”
The Saints’ Sean Payton opted to take a page from the Belichick playbook (via NOLA.com). “Honestly, we got a lot more important things we’re working on right here in our building,” he said.
Kaepernick’s actions have come at a time when his football fortunes have taken a distinct turn downward since 2013. After leading the 49ers to three straight NFC championship games and a Super Bowl appearance, the 28-year-old quarterback has struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness, and not only is he likely to lose his starting spot in San Francisco, the team may choose to part ways with him altogether.