OXNARD, Calif. (AP) — Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones doubled down Wednesday on insisting that his players stand for the national anthem, declaring that he wouldn’t support anyone who chose to stay in the locker room.
Speaking at his annual news conference to open training camp in California, the outspoken billionaire became the first owner to say publicly that his players would not be allowed to stay off the field during the anthem.
“No,” Jones said when asked if he would support players staying in the locker room. “Our policy is that you stand at the anthem, toe on the line.”
Last week, the NFL and the players’ union agreed to suspend the rule approved by owners this spring that gave players the option of staying in the locker room while allowing teams to discipline players who took a knee or sat during the anthem.
The decision to begin negotiating on the issue came hours after The Associated Press reported that Miami Dolphins players who protested during the anthem could be suspended for up to four games under team policy.
Last season, Jones was the first owner to declare that he would bench a player for protesting during the anthem. Two of his players — defensive linemen David Irving and Damontre Moore — raised their fists briefly as “The Star Spangled Banner” ended but weren’t disciplined.
“I obviously wouldn’t dare speak for any of the other owners, much less in general about 31 other owners,” Jones said. “As far as the Dallas Cowboys are concerned, you know where I stand. Our team knows where I stand on the issue.”
The issue erupted in 2016 when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting police brutality, social injustice and racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem. The demonstration spread to other players and teams.
The NFL started requiring players to be on the field for the anthem in 2009, the year it signed a marketing deal with the military. Jones had already owned the Cowboys for 20 years when players moved from the locker room to the field for the anthem.
Jones said he understood the point of view of players who say they aren’t protesting the flag or the military.
“This is a case where we need to in my mind check that and be real clear that it is, the priority is about the flag, and be real clear about that,” Jones said. “Sometimes it’s best to just be real clear and succinct so that nobody misunderstands. I think that’s our case.”
Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys don’t have an anthem issue because his father has made his stance clear from the beginning.
“I do understand when you see the back and forth,” Stephen Jones said. “But we’ve been consistent and we’ve never moved. Jerry’s never changed his stance once. I think he feels strongly about it.”
The younger Jones didn’t want to speak for the players when asked if Jerry Jones’ strong message is the reason none of his players have defied him.
“I was always brought up when you work for somebody and they’re the boss, you play by their rules,” Stephen Jones said.
Jones, who drew praise from President Donald Trump when he said last year that he would bench players, said Trump’s continuing involvement in the anthem issue is “problematic” for the league.
Trump weighed in again after news of the Dolphins’ policy broke, tweeting “The $40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand,” a reference to Roger Goodell.
“His interest in what we’re doing is problematic from my chair and I would say, in general, in the owner’s chairs,” Jerry Jones said. “And unprecedented if you really think about it. But like the very game itself, that’s the way it is and we’ll deal with it. But, yes, everybody would like for it to go away.”
Unlike other sports organizations, the Cowboys haven’t distanced themselves from Papa John’s after founder and CEO John Schnatter was ousted over a racial slur.
Schnatter was already under fire for suggesting last year that the pizza company’s sluggish sales were a result of the controversy surrounding the anthem.
Jerry Jones, who has had a close relationship with Schnatter, said the Cowboys couldn’t cut ties with the company because of an ownership stake in Papa John’s stores. Stephen Jones said the team was linked to 50 stores in the Dallas area.
“I regret that for John,” Jerry Jones said. “But at the end of the day we’ve got too many people, too many customers, too many people that we just need to do as good as we can do under the circumstances.”
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