In response to the controversy over NFL players protesting during the national anthem, which President Trump exacerbated last season, the league announced a new policy on Wednesday that essentially bans players from kneeling during the anthem. While they can opt to stay in the locker room before the game, players on the field will be fined if they do “not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.”
The NFL Players Association issued a statement objecting to the new rule, and a short time later one of the the teams’ owners joined them. New York Jets chairman Christopher Johnson initially released this statement:
Then he elaborated in an interview with Newsday, saying Jets players are free to continue protesting, as he’ll pay any fines they incur.
“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.”
The monetary risk to Johnson isn’t huge, since no Jets players took a knee last season. Instead, Johnson joined all the players and coaches in locking arms during the playing of the Anthem. But Johnson has been working with several players to promote social-justice issues, and the statement does put him in an awkward position. Johnson is currently acting as owner of the team while his brother, Woody Johnson, serves as Trump’s ambassador to Britain.