Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross denied a report that his players would be forced to stand during the national anthem rather than kneel to send a message about social injustice and police brutality.
“I have no intention of forcing our players to stand during the anthem and I regret that my comments have been misconstrued,’’ Ross said in a statement to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “I’ve shared my opinion with all our players: I’m passionate about the cause of social justice and I feel that kneeling is an ineffective tactic that alienates more people than it enlists.
“I know our players care about the military and law enforcement too because I’ve seen the same players who are fighting for social justice engaging positively with law enforcement and the military. I care passionately that the message of social justice resonates far and wide and I will continue to support and fund efforts for those who fight for equality for all.”
His statement came in response to a New York Daily News story quoting him as saying, “All of our players will be standing,” at an event in which he received the ROBIE Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jackie Robinson Foundation. “Initially, I totally supported the players in what they were doing. It’s America, and people should be able to really speak about their choices.”
Ross, the Daily News added, was influenced by President Trump, who ripped players for “disrespecting the flag” and called for them to be fired for not standing for the anthem. The focus of the demonstrations was changed by outside forces to the military and respect for the flag rather than social injustice.
“When that message changed, and everybody was interpreting it as that was the reason, then I was against kneeling,” Ross said, according to the Daily News. “I like Donald. I don’t support everything that he says. Overall, I think he was trying to make a point, and his message became what kneeling was all about. From that standpoint, that is the way the public is interpreting it. So I think that’s really incumbent upon us to adopt that. That’s how, I think, the country now is interpreting the kneeling issue.”
Ross and Dolphins Coach Adam Gase made standing a rule in October, but Gase allowed players to stay in the locker room if they did not want to stand. Julius Thomas, Michael Thomas and Kenny Stills did just that. “He’s changed that whole paradigm of what protest is,” Ross said of Trump in October. “And I think it’s incumbent upon the players today, because of how the public is looking at it, to really stand and really salute the flag.” Ross was supportive of players who chose not to stand during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
The NFL is in its offseason now, of course, and one of the issues owners must confront is what to do about anthem demonstrations, should those continue when the games resume. Among the possibilities is keeping players in the locker room rather than on the field, as was the practice before 2009. The current policy does not require that players stand for the anthem, and some players, including entire teams, stayed off the field during the anthem. There were no fines or other disciplinary measures by the league, and it would seem that a command to stand by owners would prompt action by players or the NFL Players Association.
The message wasn’t intended as disrespect toward the flag or the military when Colin Kaepernick, then the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback, began the demonstration during the summer of 2016 to raise awareness about police brutality in minority communities. As the 2017 season began, with Kaepernick a free agent who remains out of the league, others took up the demonstration — remaining seated or raising a fist or remaining in the locker room — and Kaepernick became one of the most polarizing figures in American sports. Along the way, the president called on NFL owners during a September rally in Alabama to fire any “son of a bitch” who “disrespects our flag.”
In early October, Trump said he instructed Vice President Pence and his wife to walk out after the anthem during a game in Indianapolis because the Colts were playing the 49ers, a team that had more than 20 players taking a knee or otherwise demonstrating.
“I left today’s Colts game because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our national anthem. At a time when so many Americans are inspiring our nation with their courage, resolve, and resilience, now, more than ever, we should rally around our Flag and everything that unites us,” Pence, the former governor of Indiana, said in a statement at the time. “While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I don’t think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our national anthem. I stand with President Trump, I stand with our soldiers, and I will always stand for our Flag and our national anthem.”
In November, Trump tweeted: “At least 24 players kneeling this weekend at NFL stadiums that are now having a very hard time filling up. The American public is fed up with the disrespect the NFL is paying to our country, our flag and our national anthem. Weak and out of control!”
With the message players were trying to send lost, NFL owners and players reached an agreement on a way to convert their actions into activism, funding social endeavors that players consider important, especially in at-risk communities.
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