In the past, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has strongly resisted kneeling or other demonstrations during the national anthem. Even if this NFL season begins in a very different environment, he seems to be hoping that his players will agree not to stage such protests against racial injustice.
Jones’ star quarterback seems to have other ideas.
Dak Prescott wants to leave it to individual Cowboys players to decide what they want to do during the anthem, with the understanding that they are supported in their decisions.
“This is what this country is about, about the freedom to do that, the freedom to express yourself,” Prescott said recently (via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) when asked about this possibility. “… If it were up to me, we would do just that, express ourselves individually, but collectively love and support each other.
Jones did not immediately respond to Prescott’s comments, but first-year Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday that his quarterback’s position is “the best for all of us.”
“I think the individuality of expressing yourself is part of that decision,” 56-year-old McCarthy said (via ESPN). “I saw Dak’s comments this morning, and I think he expressed them very well. I thought he hit the nail on the head, and that’s the way we’re going to move forward.”
In 2017, a year after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the anthem and inspired others to make similar demonstrations, NFL players reacted en masse to President Trump’s fierce criticism. Numerous players knelt on their knees and/or held their arms crossed before numerous games over a September weekend, and Jones and the Cowboys followed in their own way by kneeling before the anthem and then standing up during the anthem and closed their arms.
“Our players wanted to make a statement about unity and we wanted to make a statement on equality,” Jones said at the time. But within two weeks he took a much tougher line, declaring: “If we don’t respect the flag, we’re not going to play. Point.”
Since then, no Cowboys player has been kneeling during the anthem. But such protests have returned to the spotlight in the sports world following the murder of George Floyd, who was murdered while in custody by the Minneapolis Police Department, and the subsequent police violence against black people.
Prescott said on social media in June that he was “disgusted and unsure” about Floyd’s death. He promised to donate 1 million dollars to “improve our police education and combat systemic racism through education and advocacy in our country.”
In August, weeks after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said his league was “wrong because it hasn’t listened to NFL players before,” and encouraged everyone to “raise their voices and protest peacefully,” Jones acknowledged that the world has changed since 2017.
“That was then … that’s it now,” said the cowboy owner. “We have had very, very difficult times. … I have nothing to prove about my players and my support for our players. What I want to show, and what I want us all to be a part of, is a word called grace.
“I will show mercy in relation to the people who are sensitive to our flag.”
Later in August, Jones hinted that he wanted to make a compromise with his players, in line with the demonstration they held in 2017, which consisted of kneeling as a team during the anthem, but not during the anthem.
Prescott hinted this week that he has other plans, or at least believes that he or one of his teammates should be allowed to act according to his conscience.
The fifth-year quarterback added that he interpreted Jones’ comments as meaning the owner would support him. Prescott told reporters that he and other cowboys “heard Mr. Jones talk about grace, and about sharing grace and having grace with players in what they want to do.”
If Jones wants to put a player on the bench this season for kneeling during the anthem, he could face some resistance in his locker room. Maybe he doesn’t get much support at NFL headquarters either.
“We have never disciplined a single player for anything with the national anthem that violates the rules. And I don’t have that in my right,” Goodell said last month. “And I will support them.”
“It doesn’t matter that you impose your opinion and your perceptions on someone I don’t think is very important at the moment,” Prescott said this week. “At the moment it’s about listening to the other man, having empathy for him and understanding where he might come from.