No sooner did the NFL announce, to great fanfare (as it announces pretty much everything), its new national anthem policy did New York Jets chairman Christopher Johnson declare that he will pay any fine if a Jets player kneels during the song.
Which brings up a couple of questions.
‘Big, complicated issues’
First, the news: Johnson made his comments to Newsday’s Bob Glauber after the supposedly unanimous decision to adopt the new policy.
“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.
“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.”
At the owners’ meetings in March, Johnson was critical of any rule that would have required players to stand, telling reporters at the time, “I know there’s some discussion of keeping players off the field until after the anthem. I think that’s a particularly bad idea … I just think that trying to forcibly get the players to shut up is a fantastically bad idea.”
In a statement on the Jets’ website, Johnson wrote that he intended on meeting soon with coach Todd Bowles and players, and instead of focusing on fines or restrictions, “we will continue to work closely with our players to constructively advance social justice issues that are important to us. I remain extremely proud of how we demonstrated unity last season as well as our players’ commitment to strengthening our communities.”
Why vote yes?
If Johnson is as opposed to the new rule as it seems he is, why did he vote for it? The teams that voted – the San Francisco 49ers’ Jed York abstained – unanimously voted yes.
The NFL of course wants to present a united front as often as possible, which has been easier since proud renegade Al Davis’ passing. But the anthem issue is clearly one where the owners don’t all see eye-to-eye.
How will proper behavior be decided?
The Jets didn’t have any players who decided to kneel during the anthem last year, though players, coaches and Johnson did lock arms on the sideline.
And to at least one owner, Pittsburgh’s Art Rooney, even locking arms in a sign of unity should be a no-no.
Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press tweeted that Rooney “believes that raising a fist [as the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins did] and linking arms during the playing of the anthem would also constitute disrespect of the anthem.”
Johnson has no such issues, and intends on supporting his players.
York has been supportive of protesting players as well, and suggested to reporters on Wednesday he’s considering stopping concession sales during the anthem: “I don’t think we should be profiting if we’re going to put this type of attention and focus on the field and on the flag,” he said.
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• Report: NFL proposes rule change, penalty for kneeling