In the aftermath of the Dallas Cowboys’ crushing last-second loss to the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago, it was actually a completely different kind of tumult which provoked owner Jerry Jones. “You understand? If we are disrespecting the flag, then we won’t play. Period,” he told reporters.
A few weeks back, Jones was one of a series of NFL owners who, along with members of their families and front office staffs, joined players on the field in so-called unity. All locked arms and took a knee, but were back standing when the national anthem began to play. The demonstration was a response to Donald Trump’s public suggestion that NFL owners fire any “son of a bitch” who did not stand for the national anthem. In an interview with ESPN reporter Chris Mortensen, relayed to the public by Mortensen in a series of summarizing tweets, Jones expressed to Mortensen his surprise that players continued to kneel during the national anthem after the displays of unity (Twitter, 10.09.2017)
The Cowboys’ owner apparently never considered the possibility that players were genuinely concerned with police brutality and structural racism, two of the key issues raised by the anthem-kneeling protests. Mortensen also tweeted that Jones saw “the policy [as being] in the best interest of players, who ‘need consequences’ to stand up to peer pressure” (Twitter, 10.09.2017). Jones’ language in this instance is plainly condescending, which is ridiculous because it is clear he who does not and apparently never did understand what is going on.
Jones’ comments about “disrespecting the flag” come directly after two similarly hardline positions emerged from the White House. Vice President Mike Pence abruptly exited an NFL game in which players knelt during the national anthem, and President Trump followed up his own furor-initiating provocations from a few weeks ago with a call to Jones in which he allegedly admonished the long-time Cowboys owner to get the NFL game manual updated with a requirement to stand for the national anthem.
Jones was almost certainly feeling the pressure when he took his own strong stance, which itself was in response to a question about Pence’s actions earlier the same day. In a Cowboys team meeting the following Wednesday, though, and as ESPN’s Todd Archer reported, Jones “said his stance on the national anthem protests was rooted in a desire to play the bad guy and deflect attention from the players, according to a source” (ESPN, “Cowboys meet about Jones, anthem,” 10.11.2017).
This comment also completely exposes Jones’ breathtaking ignorance regarding the dynamics of the issue. I always find it a shame when certain types of reporting have to be anonymously sourced. In this instance, especially, it would have been great to hear exactly how Jones spun this brutally unnatural justification.
And the same way that sources of privileged information and access often cannot remain sources if they divulge their identities, players often cannot remain players if they publicly speak out against their employers.
“It went well,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said of the meeting later the same day. Further demonstrating the passive nature of these comments, Archer added that another Cowboys player, cornerback Orlando Scandrick, “said ‘no comment’ seven different times to questions about Jones’ recent statements and the anthem controversy” when the media received access to the team’s players that same day (ESPN).
That a billionaire owner of a sports franchise isn’t attuned to the gravity of the concerns his players are addressing in their protests is perhaps not altogether surprising. Nonetheless, Jerry Jones’ intransigent attitude stands in such stark contrast with the players’ kneeling gesture that it is hard not to grimace.