Rep. Peter King said Saturday it was “disgraceful” for Jets chairman Christopher Johnson to say he would pay fines imposed by the NFL for team members who kneel during the national anthem.
In a morning tweet, the Seaford Republican said Johnson’s stance was “encouraging a movement premised on lies vs. police.”
“Would he support all player protests?” King tweeted. “Would he pay fines of players giving Nazi salutes or spew racism? It’s time to say goodbye to Jets!”
The Jets could not be reached for comment Saturday afternoon.
National Football League owners voted Wednesday to require players to stand for the national anthem or stay in the locker room. Teams will be fined if players don’t stand.
Some players have been kneeling during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games the last two seasons to protest police brutality and racial inequality, as part of the movement known as Black Lives Matter.
Reached by telephone Saturday afternoon, King said he wasn’t trying to draw similarities between Nazism and the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead, he said he was calling out the people who believe kneeling during the anthem is a justifiable way to protest police brutality.
“To me, the people who are kneeling down, accusing the police of misconduct, that’s not something that fits within reasonable protest,” he said. “If I owned an NFL team, I’d say ‘either stand up or not be on the team.’”
King said he believes the anthem-protest movement is based on a falsehood, as was Nazism. The kneeling movement is based off a “lie” that there’s anti-black policing going on “and the statistics don’t show it,” King said.
“You shouldn’t be disrespecting the American flag no matter who you are,” he said.
Johnson had told Newsday on Wednesday that his players are free to take a knee or perform some other protest without fear of repercussions from the team. Under terms of the NFL’s revised policy, teams can fine players individually if they protest during the anthem. Johnson said he will not do that.
“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules,” Johnson said at the time. “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.”
King’s position aligns him with President Donald Trump on the anthem issue. Earlier this week, the president had endorsed the NFL’s move, saying that protesting athletes perhaps “shouldn’t be in the country.”
King’s tweet drew criticism from the NFL Players Association.
“On one level, management should be applauded when it supports labor, because it doesn’t happen as often as it should, and Christopher Johnson is doing the right thing by supporting the players,” said George Atallah, the assistant executive director of external affairs for the union. “On another level, as an Arab-American immigrant kid from Queens, I know American values and this point of view doesn’t reflect them.”
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the protest in 2016. He did not play last season after being unsigned as a free agent. He is suing the NFL and team owners, accusing them of colluding to keep him out of the league.