Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL touted a new anthem policy in Atlanta on Wednesday, but signs of serious aftershocks were felt almost instantly.
The NFLPA lashed back against the league for creating a protocol that did not adhere to the collective bargaining agreement, nor did the NFL and its owners include players in conversation about the new policy demanding teams and its players stand if on the field for the Star-Spangled Banner.
With that in mind, San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York said he abstained from an otherwise unanimous vote on the final day of the owner’s meetings.
York said he felt players and officials should have direct input on the matter.
In October, he said he supported players — including former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and safety Eric Reid — and their right to protest.
“We encourage (players) to stand, but we’re not requiring you to do anything,” he said. “You can express yourself, but we want you to stand because you want to stand. ... And we want to make our country and our communities a better place — not because you’re forcing us to, but because we’re compelled to.”
The NFL policy permits teams to choose to stay in the locker room during the national anthem, but calls for fines and punishment for any mode of disrespect. Steelers owner Art Rooney said that would include players holding a fist over their head and locking arms. Cowboys owner Stephen Jones said there is no fine schedule for anthem-related penalties and that owners will know disrespect “when we see it.”
New York Jets chairman Christopher Johnson said in March a change in anthem protocol was uncalled for, but he did vote with the majority on Wednesday in the name of the good of the game.
However, Johnson said Jets’ players are free to protest without fear of NFL or team fines. Johnson said if his players are fined, he will cover the cost.
“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules,” Johnson told Newsday. “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. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t. There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.”
Johnson plans to huddle with players at his first opportunity.
“Even without those fines, this is going to be tough on the players, and I want a chance to speak with the coaches and other players to get feedback on this policy and to build on the good work and momentum that we have built up on these issues of social justice, on legislation, and all the things that we can do,” he said.
—Field Level Media