OXNARD, Calif. – At a time when the NFL’s front office has implored teams to refrain from drawing attention to a national anthem policy that is still in limbo, Dallas Cowboys ownership is plowing forward with one unambiguous message: If you’re going to be a Cowboy, you’re standing.
Period. End of story.
That was the implied message from owner Jerry Jones on Wednesday. His son Stephen, who is the Cowboys’ CEO and head of player personnel, drilled even further down onto his father’s message Thursday, flatly stating on a radio appearance that Cowboys players will stand for the anthem or face losing their job with the team. Speaking to 1310 AM The Ticket, Jones said that means no forms of protest during the national anthem whatsoever, including choosing to stay inside the locker room during the ceremonies. That latter point – punishing players for staying off the field during the anthem – appears to violate the league’s new policy, which says personnel can remain in the locker room.
Asked if he believed if all Cowboys players would honor the rule, Stephen Jones said: “If they want to be a Dallas Cowboy, yes.”
“There’s one way to do it right in our mind, and that’s go toes on the line and stand for the anthem,” Jones said “… This is an organizational thing. We feel strongly about it. We don’t think it’s a controversy. We just think that’s the way we do it. Jerry feels strongly about it. I think he’s had a good feel for what our organization should be over 30 years. I think it’s paid off for our players for the most part.”
Cowboys players are backing ownership
For their part, Cowboys players fell in line behind Jones on Thursday as they left the team’s first training camp practice. Some said it was because they believed the policy was the right way to handle the situation, while others said the Cowboys were Jerry Jones’ team and it was his right to run the organization and create rules as he saw fit.
“I’m going to do what I’ve always done and stand,” linebacker Sean Lee told reporters. “I believe that there’s social injustice that needs to change in this country that’s serious. But I also believe that I’m going to stand for the anthem, because I feel like I’m blessed to be an American, and I’m blessed to have two grandfathers who served. These ideas are not mutually exclusive. … Our locker room has stayed united. We’ve respected everybody’s opinion. We’re going to be a group that stays united and works toward a common goal.”
Asked if he believed other teammates would like the opportunity to express themselves differently, Lee declined to answer.
Cornerback Jourdan Lewis added that the Cowboys’ anthem stance was a matter of respecting how Jerry Jones wants the team run – adding that he doesn’t believe it makes it more difficult for players to express political or social views.
“Not if you understand how to do it,” Lewis said. “At the end of the day, you’re getting paid to be a professional athlete. We have to do what we’re told to do at the end of the day and go out there to win games, honestly. We’ve got to come together as a team – not separated as a team and doing things individually. We’ve got to come in here and do what we’re supposed to do. … If you understand yourself, you understand what to do and how to do it, you understand that you have a job to do first, it’s definitely a team-first thing. I don’t want to cause any distractions. If anything, I’ll do my political things off the field.”
Cowboys may be in violation of new league policy
It remains to be seen how the league’s current policy will ultimately entertain this Cowboys stance. As it stands, the NFL has suspended any anthem-related rules or repercussions while the league has a dialogue with the NFL players union over the new rule that owners passed in May. That rule made “anthem conduct” a hardened part of gameday policy, effectively allowing teams to make up their own rules on how they would or could punish players for not following specific anthem rules. Those new set of rules appear to conflict with what Stephen Jones said Thursday, specifically, the idea that players cannot choose to stay off the field during the anthem.
As the league’s new policy stated in May:
“Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem has been performed.”
While the rules also said that each club could develop its own work rules on anthem conduct, those rules had to be “consistent with the [previously stated] principals.” In other words, teams could decide what was construed as misconduct during the national anthem and even set up their own punishment scale, but those rules could not override the foundational ruling that personnel who choose not to take part in the ceremonies could remain in the locker room or another similar area.
As it is written, Stephen Jones’ declaration – that players can’t stay off the field – appears to violate the very rule that the Cowboys voted for back in May. Then again, a declaration made on a radio station appearance may not be enough to trigger league action against the Cowboys. It may take a tangible violation, which would mean a Cowboys player would have to remain in the locker, suffer some apparent consequences from the team for the action, and then file a complaint with the NFL and union against the club.
Judging by the words of Dallas players Thursday, that may never happen.
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