NFL play­ers' union at odds with Cow­boys, Dol­phins

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By SCHUYLER DIXON AP Pro Foot­ball Writer

DAL­LAS - The dec­la­ra­tion by the pow­er­ful owner of the Dal­las Cow­boys that he would bench any­one who shows dis­re­spect to the Amer­i­can flag drew a sharp re­sponse from the NFL play­ers' union Mon­day and raised the pos­si­bil­ity of an­other call to ac­tion by ath­letes who have kneeled dur­ing the national an­them.

Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor DeMau­rice Smith of the NFL Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion said the most provoca­tive com­ments yet by Jerry Jones on the an­them con­tro­versy con­tra­dicted as­sur­ances last week from Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell and New York Gi­ants Pres­i­dent John Mara that play­ers could ex­press them­selves with­out ret­ri­bu­tion.

“I look for­ward to the day when ev­ery­one in man­age­ment can unite and truly em­brace and ar­tic­u­late what the flag stands for, lib­erty and jus­tice for all, in­stead of some of them just talk­ing about stand­ing,” Smith said. “We look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing our talks with them on this very is­sue.”

Jones' com­ments on Sun­day came after he was asked about Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence's de­ci­sion to leave an Indianapolis home game in protest of about a dozen San Fran­cisco play­ers who kneeled dur­ing the an­them. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tweeted after Pence's walkout that he had told his vice pres­i­dent to leave if any play­ers kneeled dur­ing the an­them.

Fol­low­ing a 35-31 loss to Green Bay, the 74-year-old Jones said the NFL can­not leave the im­pres­sion that it tol­er­ates play­ers dis­re­spect­ing the flag and said any Cow­boys do­ing so will not play.

“If there's any­thing that is dis­re­spect­ful to the flag, then we will not play,” said Jones, who was in­ducted into the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame in Au­gust. “OK? Un­der­stand? If we are dis­re­spect­ing the flag, then we won't play. Pe­riod.”

The Cow­boys and Jones kneeled arm-in­arm be­fore the an­them when they played at Ari­zona two weeks ago, a few days after Trump said at a rally in Alabama that NFL own­ers should fire any play­ers who dis­re­spect the flag. All of them stood dur­ing the an­them, with arms still locked.

Most Dal­las play­ers have stood on the side­line, many with hands over their hearts, dur­ing the an­them since for­mer 49ers quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick started kneel­ing last sea­son in protest of po­lice treat­ment of African Amer­i­cans.

Sev­eral NFL teams have strug­gled with how to han­dle an­them protests. After Trump's crit­i­cism, the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers agreed to stay off the field be­fore the an­them. But Army veteran Ale­jan­dro Vil­lanueva, an of­fen­sive line­man, stood at the edge of a tun­nel with his team­mates in dark­ness be­hind him dur­ing the an­them two weeks ago.

Vil­lanueva said he was not mak­ing a po­lit­i­cal state­ment in de­fi­ance of his team­mates, call­ing it a mis­un­der­stand­ing that was “very em­bar­rass­ing on my end.”

Mi­ami Dol­phins' coach Adam Gase re­cently set a new team pol­icy re­quir­ing play­ers ei­ther to stand or wait in the tun­nel. Three chose to stay off the field, Michael Thomas, Kenny Stills and Julius Thomas. All three have kneeled in the past.

“We were just try­ing to keep the team fo­cused and not be a dis­trac­tion,” Michael Thomas said.“It was a team de­ci­sion. ... The league heard us.They've heard the cry of the play­ers.”

Mara has told Gi­ants play­ers he wants them to stand dur­ing the an­them but sup­ports their right to do oth­er­wise. Jones had al­ready made it clear that he felt strongly about stand­ing for the an­them be­fore his lat­est com­ments, and he isn't the only owner who feels that way.

Jones even sug­gested that stand­ing for the an­them was more im­por­tant to him that team unity.

“The main thing I want to do is make it real clear: There is no room here if it comes be­tween look­ing non-sup­port­ive of our play­ers and of each other or cre­at­ing the im­pres­sion that you're dis­re­spect­ing the flag.We will be non-sup­port­ive of each other,” Jones said. “We will not dis­re­spect the flag.”

Trump's com­ments stoked a po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy that had sub­sided some­what since Kaeper­nick started it a year ago. The NFL de­fended the rights of play­ers to protest.

Lead NFL spokesman Joe Lock­hart has said, “Ev­ery­one should know, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent, this is what real locker room talk is.” It was an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to the “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” tapes in which Trump bragged about sex­u­ally as­sault­ing women. Trump had chalked up those com­ments as “locker room talk.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF INSIDETHESTAR.COM

On Mon­day night,Trump tweeted his sup­port for Jones. "A big salute to Jerry Jones, owner of the Dal­las Cow­boys, who will BENCH play­ers who dis­re­spect our Flag," the pres­i­dent tweeted. "'Stand for An­them or sit for game!'"

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