Jerry Jones, the owner of the National Football League's Dallas Cowboys, is threatening his players with suspension if they choose to participate in protests during the singing of the national anthem.
The protests are meant to highlight injustices that exist for people of color throughout the United States, including the shooting and killing of unarmed black men and women at the hands of several law enforcement officers across the country.
Several of President Donald Trump's supporters on social media have errantly suggested, however, that the demonstrations by players are disrespectful to veterans and current service members of the U.S. military.
Jones made clear what his expectations would be following his team's loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
"If there is anything disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period," he said.
Jones also suggested that his players would listen to his warning.
"We as a team are very much on the page together," he said, even though two players raised their fists during the anthem on Sunday.
Jones previously knelt with his players during a game last month, but he did so during a moment of silence before the anthem. Trump, who has been incredibly outspoken against players taking part in the protests, announced his support for Jones's method on Twitter in September.
Spoke to Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys yesterday. Jerry is a winner who knows how to get things done. Players will stand for Country!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2017
Trump also infamously stated his preference that owners take players to task for their protests, telling a crowd in Alabama that he’d like any “son of a b****” participating to be fired.
Some, like The Intercept columnist Shaun King, have even suggested that Jones's announcement came at the behest of Trump himself.
Please take note of this tweet.— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) October 9, 2017
Jerry Jones is doing just as his friend asked him to do. https://t.co/Ccz996jYOu
Yet Jones's policy and Trump's insistence that players must stand runs counter to our nation's founding principles. The First Amendment gives every American the right to speak their mind.
And while players are technically beholden to the decisions that NFL owners make, they are also members of a union, which has vowed to protect the rights of athletes to speak their minds accordingly.
NFL players are union members and part of the labor movement that has woven the fabric of America for generations. Our full statement: pic.twitter.com/FMOXvz3G7h— NFLPA (@NFLPA) October 9, 2017
Some conservative lawmakers who are critical of the players have suggested that they should leave politics off the field, threatening the league itself with repurcussions if they don't comply. But many great moments in sports have involved a political message.
Jesse Owens participating in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, during the rise of an extremist Nazi ideology comes to mind. So, too, does Jackie Robinson's entry into Major League Baseball, and Muhammad Ali's conscientious objections to the draft and the Vietnam War, both of which are now celebrated moments in the sporting world.
It’s OK for individuals to object to the players’ protests. Objections are themselves an expression of ideas, and represent the freedom of speech, as well. But to suggest that players must stand, that they must restrain themselves from speaking their own minds, violates one of the most sacred tenets of American democracy.
Both Trump and Jones are wrong for suggesting players must curtail their views — and they should be ashamed for their threats.
Banner image credit: Reuters, Richard Brian