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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

National anthem will be hot topic at NFL owners’ meetings

Christopher Johnson of the New York Jets has supported his players, while the Texans’ Robert McNair has criticised protests

NFL protests against police brutality began in 2016 after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (centre) sat during the anthem. Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports
NFL protests against police brutality began in 2016 after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (centre) sat during the anthem. Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

The national anthem is going to be a hot topic at the NFL owners’ meetings.

Judging by the comments Sunday from the Texans’ Robert McNair and the Jets’ Christopher Johnson, the debate among the 32 owners could be confrontational.

Mr McNair, who last year made an analogy of inmates running the prison about players’ demonstrations during the anthem, remains adamant that everyone should stand for the The Star-Spangled Banner.

“Our playing field is not the place for political statements, not the place for religious statements,” Mr McNair said. “It’s the place for football.”

Mr Johnson, acting owner of the Jets with his brother, Woody, who is Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, took a far different tack.

“I have immense respect for the players and their efforts,” Christopher Johnson said. “I think if other teams approached it like that, it would not be such a problem in the NFL.

“I can’t speak to how other people run their teams, but I just think that trying to forcibly get the players to shut up is a fantastically bad idea.”

While the social protests players made last season will be a topic here, reaching an agreement on language in the league’s policy regarding behaviour during the anthem is highly unlikely. Owners will meet again in May in Atlanta, and with so much other business to attend in the next three days, the anthem issue figures to extend until then.

“I don’t know if it’ll be a vote or just a new policy coming out,” New York Giants owner John Mara said. “I think we can’t go much beyond the May meeting before coming up with some sort of resolution to that.”

Mr McNair and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones are among the leaders of the move to ban any demonstrations during the anthem. The Texans’ owner drew strong criticism from a variety of players after making his “inmates” comment last fall.

“We’re going to deal with it in such a way, I think, that people will understand that we want everybody to respect our country, respect our flag,” Mr McNair said Sunday. “And our playing fields, that’s not the place for political statements.

“Fans are upset about it. The fans are our customers. You can replace the owners and the league would survive. You can replace the players, although the game won’t be as good. You can’t replace the fans. If you don’t have the fans, you’re dead.”

Mr Johnson was more willing to search for answers to the anthem issue while also not wanting the players’ messages to be lost. He doesn’t favour seeing the policy changed to having the players remain in the locker room until after the anthem is played, which has been discussed.

“I think that’s a particularly bad idea,” Johnson said.

What about changing the language to the players must stand?

“I don’t agree with that either, but I’m only one of 32 owners,” he added. “I think that the Jets had a pretty great thing happen last year around the anthem. I think there was an understanding between me and the players that we could use our position - rightly or wrongly, people pay attention to teams and athletes - but we could use our position to get some great stuff done off the field. I think we have done some great things off the field.”