ATLANTA — Despite the NFL’s approval of a revised policy that requires players on the field to stand during the national anthem, Jets chairman Christopher Johnson told Newsday on Wednesday that his players are free to take a knee or perform some other protest without fear of repercussion from the team.
League owners unanimously adopted a policy that allows players who don’t want to participate in the anthem to remain in the locker room. Players who do appear on the field for the anthem must stand; if they don’t, their respective club faces a league-issued fine and teams can levy additional fines.
“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.”
Johnson has been highly critical of the possibility that owners would require players to stand. During the owners meetings in Orlando in March, Johnson told reporters he didn’t feel a change in protocol was necessary. “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.”
No Jets players took a knee last season. Instead, the players, coaches and Johnson locked arms during the playing of the anthem. Johnson also has worked closely with several Jets players, as well as former linebacker Demario Davis, who now plays with the Saints, to promote social justice and criminal reform issues. He wants that work to continue and will speak with players and coaches in the coming days to make sure the new workplace guidelines don’t interfere with that mission.
“I seriously struggled with this,” he said of the anthem modifications approved by the owners. “You know my position on the anthem, and you have to understand that the plan we ended up with, due to some serious work in the [meeting] room, was vastly less onerous than the one that was presented to me late last week. In the end, I felt I had to support it from a membership standpoint.”
The fact that Johnson will pay any fines out of his own pocket and not sanction any players who may want to demonstrate during the anthem made it more palatable that he join his fellow owners in approving the anthem protocol.
“Even without those fines, this is going to be tough on the players, and I want a chance to speak with the coaches and other players to get feedback on this policy and to build on the good work and momentum that we have built up on these issues of social justice, on legislation, and all the things that we can do,” he said. “I don’t think that this policy will interfere with that at all.
“I have a really good relationship with the players, and I hope we can keep that going and I trust that we will. I’m so proud of our players and their efforts to date. I think that is the most important thing to get across. I could not be more proud of the guys.”