In Dallas, the pastor of a predominantly black megachurch accused Cowboys owner Jerry Jones of using “plantation politics” to silence black athletes who have sought to bring awareness to police brutality and social injustice by taking a knee or otherwise demonstrating during the national anthem preceding NFL games.

“Mr. Jones doesn’t mind cheering for those black players while they’re on the field,” Frederick D Haynes III, the senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church, said in a news conference Monday at Dallas police headquarters, “but he’s not concerned about the hell their communities are catching off the field.”

Haynes was one of a group of mostly black pastors and activists who gathered in support of Colin Kaepernick.

“Colin Kaepernick took a stand when he took that knee during the National Anthem, in essence saying “America, be true to what you’re singing about,” Haynes said. “Well, last week Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, decided it was time to revert to plantation politics.”

The storm over players who protested social injustice and police brutality by taking a knee erupted last month when President Trump called for owners to fire or suspend any “son of a bitch” who did not stand for the anthem. Jones at first seemed responsive to players, rather theatrically taking a knee alongside the Cowboys before the anthem, keeping an eye on the TV cameras, and then rising with all of them to stand with arms linked for the song before a Sept. 25 “Monday Night Football” game. However, he later told ESPN that he thought the controversy “would go away” after that night and added that players “need consequences” for their actions. He went on to declare that any Cowboys player who did not stand for the anthem would be benched.

Although the controversy is rooted partly in the divisiveness that roils the county, there’s also a power struggle going on here. Of course, owners own the league and will be there long after individual players have gone, but there’s a new awareness among players in the NFL that they have a platform and a voice. They’re taking the first halting steps toward using both and, in the process, hoping to be recognized at least as partners in the business of football.

That doesn’t sit well with all owners. Jones was present for the owners’ portion of the meeting, but not listed among the 11 owners and 13 players who gathered with union and league representatives Tuesday in New York City in an attempt to figure out just how they can find common ground in the controversy. He was confronted by a protester in the lobby of the meeting hotel, and listened as they compared players to $40 million slaves.

Shortly before the meeting began, the NFL released a copy of an unusual letter, co-signed by Commissioner Roger Goodell and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing support for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017.

The bottom line,” the letter states, “is that we all want to make our communities better. As Doug stated in a recent memo to owners, this is about ‘doing the right thing for the right reason … love and empathy are more important attributes than a 40 time or route-running ability … yearning for justice and equality is something that all humankind can understand.’

“The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would address many of the issues on which our players have worked to raise awareness of over the last two seasons. This bill seeks to improve public safety, increase rehabilitation, and strengthen families. If enacted, it would be a positive next step in our collective efforts to move our nation forward.”

There’s already an important lesson to be gained for the men who own football. It really isn’t up to them to decide when the anthem demonstrations end, as Tony Dungy, the former coach and NBC analyst, has pointed out. It is protesters, not Jones or the establishment, who make that call.

“Why would he think the controversy would go away when in the players’ minds the same issues are still there?” Dungy tweeted recently about Jones.

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