NFL Team Owner Promises to Pay Fines if Players Protest

'I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 24, 2018 5:59 AM CDT
Jets Owner: I'll Pay the Fines If Players Protest
The New York Jets hold hands during the National Anthem during the first half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, in Miami Gardens, Fla.   (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

New York Jets owner and chairman Christopher Johnson says he'd prefer players to stand during the national anthem—but if they want to defy the new NFL regulations and protest by sitting or kneeling, the team will pay the fine, not the players. "I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players," he tells Newsday. "There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines," he adds. "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." The AP reports that one fan of the change is President Trump, who told Fox News on Thursday that "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."

Under the new regulations, players who don't want to stand for the anthem are required to stay in the locker room while it is played. The league will fine teams whose players disobey. No Jets took a knee for the anthem last year. The new rules were unanimously approved by all 32 NFL owners, though Johnson says it was a decision he struggled with. He says he decided to approve it because he felt like he had to—and the final version was "vastly less onerous" than what he was first presented with. Critics are accusing the NFL of crushing dissent with the new policy. Instead of demanding punishment, "we should accept that encountering expression that briefly makes us uncomfortable is a small price to pay for ensuring the protection of expression we deeply value," writes Sarah McLaughlin at the New York Daily News. At CNN, Terence Moore argues that the league should have just returned to its pre-2009 policy, when all players stayed in their locker rooms during the anthem. (More NFL stories.)

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