NFL owners approved a policy in May aimed at ending protests by players during pregame renditions of the national anthem, but one prominent player is saying that won’t stop him. Tennessee Titans defensive end Jurrell Casey asserted Wednesday that he would continue his demonstrations, even at the risk of being forced to “take a fine.”
“I’m going to take a fine this year, why not?” Casey, 28, said (via CNN). “I’m going to protest during the flag. That’s what I’m going to say now.”
“I’m going to take my fine,” added the three-time Pro Bowler, speaking while at an NFL promotional event in London. “It is what it is. I ain’t going to let them stop me from doing what I want to do.
“If they want to have these battles between players and organizations, this is the way it’s going to be.”
After seeing the player protests become a polarizing, headline-grabbing issue over the past two seasons, in no small part because President Trump has repeatedly singled out the demonstrations for sharp criticism, the NFL announced in May that it would impose discipline on players who failed to “stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.” Players were given the option to remain in their respective locker rooms during the anthem, but if they are “on the field and do not stand and show respect,” their teams could be fined by the league.
In turn, teams are allowed to develop their own policies about conduct during the anthem, which may include fines. “I think this policy is meant to come out at a place where we’re respecting everybody’s point of view on this as best we could,” Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II said as the policy was announced.
“Around the NFL, guys are definitely not happy about it,” Casey said Wednesday. “I feel it’s not right, I don’t think it was a good decision for the NFL to come up with that ruling. But they have their reasons for what they’ve done.”
While the Titans have reportedly not had any players kneel or sit during the anthem, Casey has raised a fist after the playing of the song for the past two seasons. It is unclear if standing while raising a fist would constitute a lack of “respect,” in the eyes of the Titans or the league, but Rooney said in May he thought doing so, or linking arms during the anthem, would violate the policy.
To Casey, the furor over the protests showed a lack of understanding of what they were about. “It’s not necessarily about the anthem, that’s where everybody’s messing up,” he said. “We’re just using that time as a platform.”
“The way that the justice system treats minorities is the issue that we have,” he explained. ” … At the end of the day, we’ve got to do a job, but I will continue to use my platform to keep on speaking up.”
The Titans were one of three teams that stayed in the locker room altogether during the anthem in Week 3 of last season, after Trump had said that NFL owners should fire any “son of a bitch” who “disrespects our flag.” Whereas relatively few players had been protesting until then, that week featured mass demonstrations before games, with several owners joining players and other personnel in linking arms on the field. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones even took a knee with his team before the anthem was played.
New York Jets chairman Christopher Johnson, in charge of the team while his brother Woody Johnson serves as the Trump administration’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, was among those who linked arms with the players. When the policy was announced in May, he said that his players could conduct themselves during the anthem as their consciences saw fit, and that he would personally pay any fines that might result from their actions.
“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules,” Johnson said. “If somebody [on the Jets] takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players.”
In March, Johnson had said, “I can’t speak to how other people run their teams, but I just think that trying to forcibly get the players to shut up is a fantastically bad idea.”
The NFL Players Association has filed a grievance against the league for imposing its policy unilaterally. The policy is “inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on player rights,” the union said last week.
Another protest-related grievance against the NFL was filed in October by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began the demonstrations in 2016. After becoming a free agent in March 2017, Kaepernick was not signed by any team, barely sparking any discernible interest even as less accomplished quarterbacks repeatedly found jobs, and he has accused owners of colluding to punish him for his activism.
Casey said that he was troubled by Kaepernick’s situation, claiming the quarterback “definitely deserves” to be on a team. “For all these trash quarterbacks you see that get a shot, that come in and sit on the bench all day, you got a starting quarterback that’s out there that can go out there and play,” Casey told CNN.
“You know he has the skill set to be a starting quarterback, and you hold him out just because he is speaking his mind,” he added. “At the end of the day it speaks [volumes] on what these people really think about you.”
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