Multiple NFL players say they have been explicitly and implicitly warned against doing any kind of demonstration during the national anthem in the weeks following President Donald Trump’s directions to owners to “get that son of a bitch off the field” for protesting racial inequality.
Before this weekend’s slate of games in the NFL, The Root was contacted by eight players and coaches, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. Of those NFL employees, three players and one position coach said that owners, team management or members of the coaching staffs have instructed them not to kneel or have any demonstration during the national anthem.
“They didn’t say what would happen,” said one NFL linebacker who plays for one of eight teams whose owners donated to Trump’s presidential campaign. “But they let us know that we are expected to stand during the anthem.”
Another player texted that after Trump made his remarks last week, his coach informed players that they would make one demonstration as a team, and they would be done with it. According to the player, “Certain players were allowed to speak on it after the game last week, and then they said the case was closed. Whoever did something after then was doing it as an individual, and they always say ain’t no room for individuals here.”
One member of an NFL coaching staff said that the general manager asked the position coaches (who are often the lowest-ranked coaches but have the most contact with the players) to “feel out” which players might be thinking of taking a knee and to “talk to them.”
“Out of all the players you see taking a knee, there are probably three times as many who want to do it but are scared. If you ain’t a one or two at your position (meaning a first- or second-string player), you ain’t doing it. People have to feed they family,” he said.
One player told The Root that the protest was never discussed by the entire team in his locker room until Trump’s comments at a Huntsville, Ala., political rally. Before then, players talked about it among themselves, but then there was the team meeting to talk about it.
Another practice-squad player told us that his coaching staff previously told the team’s black players that they understood the protest, but on the Tuesday after the demonstrations two weeks ago, the head coach said that management had asked them to speak to the players and explain that demonstrations would be “looked at on a case-by-case basis.”
“My coach said his father served in Desert Storm,” said one special-teams player. “He said he fought for our right to take a knee. Then, all of a sudden, he’s asking us not to do it. I know management must have talked to him. He looked like he was ashamed to even say that to us.”
According to ESPN, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who donated $1 million to the Trump campaign, is the only owner who has publicly said that he warned his players about their demonstrations.
“If there’s anything that is disrespectful to the flag, then we will not play,” Jones said after his Dallas team played the Green Bay Packers. “Understand? We will not ... if we are disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period.”
Only one of the players who spoke on condition of anonymity with The Root took a knee on Sunday during the national anthem. As of the writing of this article, he said that no member of his team’s management or coaching staff had contacted him.