Jerry Jones sidestepped the question of whether he would change his policy requiring Dallas Cowboys players to stand during the national anthem.
Still, the owner who has taken the hardest line among his NFL counterparts against protesting racial injustice during “The Star-Spangled Banner” did acknowledge a changing social tide after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Two years ago, Jones wouldn’t even support players staying in the locker room during the national anthem, declaring the club’s policy was for players to be on the sideline, “toe on the line.”
While he reiterated his belief in standing for the anthem in his annual pre-training camp meeting with reporters this week, Jones tried to say he intended to be more open to the points of view of players.
“That was then … This is now,” Jones said Wednesday. “These are very sensitive times. I have nothing to prove as far as where I’m standing with the flag and where the Cowboys stand. I have nothing to prove regarding my players and my support of our players.
“I want our players to understand the perception and where they’re coming from regarding the flag and the sensitivity there, and the many memories there. And I want our fans to understand … where our players are coming from there.”
Jones was the first owner to suggest he might bench players over kneeling for the anthem. That was 2017, when the issue flared over comments from President Donald Trump a year after Colin Kaepernick first knelt to call attention to issues of racial injustice.
With more players kneeling in response to Trump three years ago, Jones joined players and coaches as the Cowboys locked arms and knelt before the anthem on a Monday night in Arizona. Everyone stood before the anthem was played.
“We have many on that team that were thinking about one way and many, many others that were thinking about another way,” Jones said. “I asked them to look at from the standpoint of not only team, but look at it from the standpoint of the uniqueness we can do with the Dallas Cowboys.”
The Cowboys are in a similar situation now, with star quarterback Dak Prescott saying “conversations are heating up” over what the team will do with players and coaches kneeling during the anthem in other pro leagues, most notably the NBA.
“We are coming close to a point of what we want to do and the way we want to represent one another, the way we want to represent this team and the way we want to represent this country,” Prescott said.
Prescott pledged $1 million toward police training after Floyd, a Black man, died when a white police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes in May. He said he was “disgusted and unsettled” by Floyd’s death.
The two-time Pro Bowler has also joined other athletes in writing to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt seeking the release of death row inmate Julius Jones.
While Prescott said two years ago he didn’t think the anthem was the right time for such a protest, he said he would support teammates who kneel.
“We have the choice to do as we please, whether to kneel or believe in this religion or that religion, to come from this background and still make it, come from this economic deal or be burdened by oppression and still overcome it,” Prescott said. “I support life and I support the good in people.”
Defensive tackles Dontari Poe and Gerald McCoy signed with Dallas as free agents in the offseason, and both questioned why Jones didn’t speak sooner after Floyd’s death and Commissioner Roger Goodell’s acknowledgment that the NFL erred in its resistance to peaceful protests by players.
Jones said he hasn’t talked directly to Poe and McCoy, but expected to do that while talking to other players as well.
“Am I interested in what everybody has to say about any issue? You bet,” Jones said. “And I have rabbit ears. I really do. Having said that, I am listening. The point is, we will do it in a way we think is a sensitive and has as much grace for the genuine feelings of everybody in mind.”
Jones said the key word was “grace” amid the changing social environment that includes the country’s battle to contain the coronavirus.
“I’m going to show grace,” Jones said. “And I’d like to show that kind of grace on a sensitive matter. Everybody is genuine here. I’m giving everyone the benefit of the doubt relative to any decision that I make.”
Jones’ tone indicated quite a bit more wiggle room compared to “toe on the line.”