A day after asserting that Dallas Cowboys players who staged demonstrations during the national anthem would be benched, team owner Jerry Jones said President Trump had reminded him of the NFL’s policy on conduct during pregame renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Jones also said his edict would help his players, who otherwise might feel compelled to bow to pressure from peers to join the protests, which have made headlines and drawn frequent condemnation from the White House.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Jones’s comments Monday, claiming the owner thought the “controversy would ‘go away’ ” after a Monday night game two weeks ago in which Jones knelt with his team before the anthem, after which they stood arm-in-arm as the song was performed. Following that demonstration, Jones said his organization had “wanted to make a statement about unity” and “a statement about equality.”
During that display, Trump noted on Twitter that the crowd was booing the kneeling Cowboys and that he approved of the way “they all stood up for our National Anthem,” adding, “Big progress being made — we all love our country!” The next day, Trump tweeted that he had spoken with Jones, claiming, “Players will stand for Country!”
Jones confirmed that he spoke with the president but told a Dallas radio station, “There are many things we don’t agree on.” On Monday, though, Mortensen said Jones told him, “You know who reminded me about the game ops policy? Donald Trump.”
The NFL’s game operations manual notes that the national anthem “must be played prior to every NFL game” and that “all players must be on the sideline” for it. The section also states that failure to do so “may result in discipline.” This season, the league has declined to punish players who chose to remain in the locker room or tunnel during the anthem, and three entire teams, the Steelers, Seahawks and Titans, did so in Week 3.
The manual also says that while the anthem is being performed, “players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand and refrain from talking.” Some have noted the significance of the word “should,” indicating the NFL does not mandate that its players stand during the anthem.
In addition, the manual acknowledges the importance of public perception, noting in its anthem instructions, “It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country.” On Sunday, Jones echoed that sentiment, saying, “We cannot in the NFL, in any way, give the implication that we tolerate disrespecting the flag.”
“If we are disrespecting the flag, then we won’t play. Period. Period,” Jones told reporters Sunday (via the Dallas Morning News). “We’re going to respect the flag.”
The 74-year-old, who purchased the Cowboys in 1989, reiterated that stance to Mortensen, saying in the reporter’s words that there “will be no exceptions to [the] workplace policy.” Jones said he had implemented that policy last year, after seeing players on other teams refuse to stand during the anthem, in protests of racial injustice that began with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
While Kaepernick has been unable to latch on with a team since becoming a free agent in March, which many attribute to his social activism, a handful of players began the season staging their own protests, including kneeling, sitting or raising a fist during the anthem. That number ballooned to more than 200 in Week 3, while some teams chose to stand with their arms linked in a show of unity, after Trump sharply criticized the protesting players at an Alabama rally, using the term “son of a bitch.”
On Sunday, there were far fewer protests involving kneeling, amid reports that several NFL teams had told their players to stand. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who in the past has vocally supported his players’ right to protest, said, “I think it’s incumbent upon players today, if that’s how the public is looking at it, is to stand and salute the flag.”
The Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins, who has been raising his fist during the anthem and has worked toward helping create better relations between police and community members, said Monday to NBC Sports Philadelphia, “I think we’ve made that very clear that what we are demonstrating about has nothing to do with the flag but everything to do with social injustice, racial inequality and the things that Jerry Jones and other owners who are making statements have yet to address.
“And so I’d love to hear their takes on that part of the conversation, what these players are trying to draw attention to,” Jenkins continued. “Their thoughts on, you know, police brutality and racial inequality, education gap, the economical gap in these communities that they make money in. And I’d love to hear that part of the conversation so that it’s not so argumentative, so that it’s not isolating the players who are trying to do the right thing with the platform that they have.”
Jones, who is heavily involved in his team’s personnel operations and has long held a reputation for being willing to overlook character concerns in pursuit of talent, told Mortensen, “I’ve always had our players’ backs on issues I’ve been criticized for.” However, he added that while he understood the players’ social concerns, he would offer no compromise on protests during the anthem.
Jones said he spoke about his anthem policy Sunday after Vice President Pence walked out of a Colts-49ers game in Indianapolis, before which more than a dozen San Francisco players took a knee during the anthem. Trump subsequently revealed on Twitter that he had directed Pence to do so if that situation arose.
During a Cowboys game at home against the Packers, which took place later Sunday, two Dallas players, Damontre Moore and David Irving, raised their fists as the anthem concluded. Jones said Monday that the pair would not necessarily be punished but that he wanted, as Mortensen put it, “clarity for them going forward.”
Later Monday, Trump praised the owner, saying on Twitter, “A big salute to Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who will BENCH players who disrespect our Flag. ‘Stand for Anthem or sit for game!’ ”