FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Todd Bowles has no answers. He doesn’t know how to pour water on a cauldron of hate. He’s not sure how to eradicate racism, he said, only that “it needs to stop.” So he will not dictate the responses of others.
And it was with that in mind Wednesday, after Jets training camp, that Bowles said he would understand if one of his players took a seat or raised a fist or dropped to one knee when “The Star Spangled Banner” is played Saturday night, when the Jets will face the Lions in Detroit in their second preseason game.
“It’s their individual right,” he said. “We don’t have a rule book on what’s right to protest or not protest. You don’t know those things until the course of time — whether it’s sitting for the anthem, whether it’s raising your fist, whether it’s speaking out, whether it’s a walk to Washington — who’s to say whose protest is good or bad, you know?
“I’m against racism, segregation and all that other stuff, but how do we come to an answer? I don’t have that answer. How do we come to a common ground? I don’t have that answer. It’s a hell of a debate. It’s a hell of a topic. (Racism) needs to stop.”
On Sunday, a day after a woman was killed while protesting a rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, the Seahawks’ Michael Bennett responded by taking a seat. Though the Raiders’ Marshawn Lynch sat during the national anthem Saturday night, Bennett was the first to equate his actions with the violence in Virginia. Days earlier, before this powder keg exploded, the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins raised his fist during the anthem, something he’s done since last year.
Colin Kaepernick is gone from the NFL — at least for now — but the protest he began last year is far from over. Bowles said he does not know if any of his players will take part. Leonard Williams, one of the Jets’ de facto leaders, said there has been no talk of it in the locker room.
If a teammate did protest, “I’d obviously support him,” Williams said. “Everybody has their freedom of speech and the right to do what they want to do, but at the same time, I would try to tell them to stay focused on us.”
On Tuesday, during an event for Cardinals season-ticket holders, at least one of whom took exception to the protests, commissioner Roger Goodell preached “understanding.”
Asked if the protests would be “a problem” Goodell said he respected the anthem, according to NFL.com, but “we have to understand there are people with different viewpoints.”
Without naming the player, he mentioned someone from the Jets, who, he said, responded to the question of anthem protests by saying “there is a time and a place.” Goodell then said he wanted players to make “really positive change” by going out and supporting the community.
On Wednesday, Bowles said he would not be the arbitrator of that time or place.
“That’s just the way they feel and that’s their right to express it,” he said, adding that the topic has not caused locker room discord. “As a football team, politics and people are human, they’re part of it . . .
“Everyone has their own feelings about it. You can’t sway anybody one way or the other. We’re all grown men here. That’s how people feel. That has nothing to do with what they do at practice and what they do on the field. But separately, off the field, they’re going to feel the way they feel.”