By Brad Tuttle
May 24, 2018

Soon after the NFL announced it would issue fines if players do not stand during the national anthem before games, one team owner said he will cover any financial penalties that come as a result of players protesting.

New York Jets co-owner Christopher Johnson told Newsday on Wednesday that fines related to national anthem protests “will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players.”

Johnson said that he prefers that players stand during the national anthem, but he will not punish players who decide to protest. “I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players,” he said. “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.”

Johnson’s statements came right after the NFL announced a new national anthem policy. It requires that all players stand if they are on the field when the national anthem is played. If a player does not stand while on the sideline, the NFL will fine his team, the league announced. However, players are given the option of staying in the locker room during the national anthem, without facing the possibility of fines.

It’s noteworthy that all fines issued by the NFL would be directed against the team, not protesting players. This might make the Jets’ Johnson’s stance seem unnecessary.

But, theoretically, teams could punish their own players in any number of ways—including the issuing of their own fines—for violating the new NFL national anthem policy.

The NFL announced the new policy after a season full of controversy over national anthem protests. More than 200 players kneeled or sat during the national anthem before games last September. Many were prompted to protest after statements made by President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Alabama called for players to be fired for disrespecting the flag and the national anthem.

Many players continued to protest during the national anthem throughout the season, and fan boycotts and more criticism by Trump followed.

The initial national anthem protest movement was largely inspired by Colin Kaepernick, a San Francisco 49ers quarterback who kneeled during the national anthem in the 2016 season to protest social injustice and racism. Kaepernick was not on any NFL roster last year.

No member of the New York Jets kneeled during the national anthem last season. Jets’ owner Johnson Christopher Johnson linked arms with players while the national anthem was played before games as a sign of solidarity, Sports Illustrated reported.

President Trump praised the NFL for its new national anthempolicy during an interview that aired on “Fox & Friends” on Thursday, and suggested that players who refuse to stand should perhaps leave the country. “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing. You shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country,” Trump said.

Polls have shown that most Americans are opposed to firing players for refusing to stand during the national anthem. Many responded to the NFL’s new policy by criticizing the league for failing to protect freedom of speech.

Critics also lamented how seemingly easily the NFL caved to President Trump. “Rather than show a little backbone themselves and support the right of athletes to protest peacefully, the league capitulated to a president who relishes demonizing black athletes,” a New York Times editorial stated.

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