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Amid national anthem protests, Todd Bowles wants people to ‘focus on the issues’

Jets head coach Todd Bowles, Jermaine Kearse and

Jets head coach Todd Bowles, Jermaine Kearse and Josh McCown stand in unison with the team during the national anthem prior to an NFL game against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 24, 2017. Credit: Getty Images / Al Bello

Todd Bowles is evasive when it comes to information regarding the Jets. He was built that way playing for Joe Gibbs and learning to coach under Bill Parcells. Information is on a need-to-know basis.

His brief comments regarding the backup quarterback position and the struggles of weakside linebacker Darron Lee in the last two weeks could be a class discussion on how not to answer questions.

Everything changed on Monday afternoon when Bowles was asked about President Donald Trump’s comments regarding firing players who take a knee during the national anthem.

Bowles revealed his thoughts in a calm manner that revealed that he’s not only aware of what’s going on in the world but so are his players.

“Honestly, in my mind, it’s no different than a fan saying something when you’re coming through the tunnel,” Bowles said. “You have to put that out of your mind. The biggest problem here is the issue and like I said, you focus on the issues no matter who is saying what doesn’t matter — whether it’s the president, whether it’s another player in another sport, whether it’s the coach, whether it’s the fans — it really doesn’t matter if you don’t focus on the issue. The issues are the things that happened in Charlottesville, we have hurricane victims here and there. [We] have to focus on the issue because the ‘he said, she said’ and the Twitter beef and all of that stuff really doesn’t matter.”

During the weekend, NFL players talked among themselves about responding to Trump’s comments. Three teams, the Steelers, Titans and Seahawks, didn’t come out for the national anthem. In London, Jaguars owner Shad Khan locked arms with his players. Monday night in Glendale, Arizona, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones took a knee with his team before the anthem was played.

Sunday afternoon, at MetLife Stadium, the Jets locked arms, including chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson. Bowles was part of the reason why.

He opened the dialogue for his players the night before the game, and a spirited discussion took place. There was some debate about locking arms or doing some other form of protest. Whatever the Jets were going to do, Bowles wanted the team to be unified.

“It’s really not what we hear and we still locked arms because we’re united, we’re trying to show that we can get things done as a country, if we unite together, we’re trying to show unity within our team, we’re trying to show unity for the league and we’re trying to show unity for everything all together and it’s inclusive,” Bowles said. “I’m not a big comment guy. I’m not a ‘who said what’ and ‘what said who’. If it’s not about solutions, the problems don’t really matter if you’re not trying to find a solution.”

Sunday morning, Johnson went into the Jets locker room and asked several players if he could stand with them. He told ESPN he was disappointed in Trump’s comments. Bowles was, too. It was one of those rare moments in which Bowles expressed himself.

“The biggest thing is to understand what you’re talking about and what you’re doing it for,” he said. “If you can answer those two questions, then how you want to react on that is something you have to do as a man. But as a team, we wanted to talk about these things because we don’t like to be surprised. They don’t want to be surprised from me and I don’t want to be surprised by them. We have a great relationship. They have a great trust in me and I have a great trust in them. They can come to me with anything and I’ll talk to them and take my coaching hat off and talk to them on the things I’ve seen and experienced and try to put things in perspective for them.”

Bowles knows about fighting for your rights.

He walked the picket line during the 1987 NFL strike as a second-year free safety for the Redskins. He brought the doughnuts to the striking players because that’s what he was told to do. He didn’t know what the players were fighting for then, but he listened to the leadership of the team. He followed the leaders knowing one day he’d become one.

Being a leader means dealing with issues related to the football team, whether it’s a backup quarterback, injuries to a starting right guard or a starting quarterback getting hit in the face.

Now it seems issues away from the field are affecting the football team as well.

The owner of the Jets is Woody Johnson, who has given up the day-to-day operations to his younger brother, Christopher. Woody Johnson donated $1 million to the Trump inaugural committee and is the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Woody Johnson in essence is still the boss of the Jets players, who are protesting against their boss’ boss.

How do you handle a protest against Trump while your boss works for him?

“It’s always delicate,” Bowles said. “It’s always a delicate situation any time you talk about social issues regardless of what it is, regardless of who’s in charge. It’s always a delicate thing. But these guys are socially aware, they have a conscience and they want to be heard. At the same time, we want to be together as a team and we want to go out and win football games. That’s first and foremost. It’s always delicate, but we have real conversations and we talk and we sit down and we hash things out. At the end of the day we come to decisions as a team.”

Notes & quotes: The Jets signed cornerback Robert Nelson to the practice squad and released wide receiver Kalif Raymond. Raymond started the season on the active roster but was released after two weeks. He was re-signed to the practice squad after clearing waivers.

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