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Volume 25 No. 45
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Jets' Chris Johnson Says He Will Pay Player Fines For Protesting

Johnson made the decision last season to show unity by linking arms during the national anthem
Photo: getty images

Jets Chair & CEO Christopher Johnson said that his players are "free to take a knee or perform some other protest without fear of repercussion from the team" following the announcement of the NFL's new national anthem policy, according to Bob Glauber of NEWSDAY. Johnson said, “I do not like imposing any club-specific rules. If somebody takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players." While saying he prefers that players stand, he understands "if they felt the need to protest." Johnson: "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." Glauber reports the fact that Johnson "will pay any fines out of his own pocket and not sanction any players who may want to demonstrate during the anthem made it more palatable that he join his fellow owners in approving the anthem protocol" (NEWSDAY, 5/24). In N.Y., Manish Mehta notes Johnson has "been at the forefront of his players' social concerns since taking over for his brother," Jets Owner Woody Johnson, who is serving as the Ambassador to the U.K. Christopher Johnson has "navigated this unique path with aplomb, starting with the Jets' decision to show unity by linking arms during the national anthem amid peaceful protests last season." He also "consistently spent time with team leaders" last year to "further social reforms" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/24).

YORK ABSTAINS FROM VOTE: 49ers CEO Jed York said that he "abstained from voting" on the new policy partly because he "wanted to receive more input from players." In S.F., Eric Branch notes York has "consistently supported his players’ right to protest." York also said that he "planned to halt concession sales during the anthem." York’s stance was praised by 49ers CB Richard Sherman, who said, “It carries a lot of weight. And we respect the hell out of him for it.” Branch notes the 49ers have "been at the forefront of the debate" since Colin Kaepernick began his protest in '16. York has "proved to be among the league’s more progressive owners during that time" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 5/24). York said of shutting down concession sales during the anthem, "I don't think we should be profiting if we're going to put this type of attention and focus on the field and on the flag" (L.A. TIMES, 5/24). YAHOO SPORTS' Terez Paylor noted York's abstention was partly "due to his concern over whether players believed they had been adequately consulted during this process." York: “I would say that’s probably the biggest reason." Paylor wrote it is "tempting to be cynical about York’s stance and dismiss it as posturing," as his organization released Kaepernick after the '16 season. However, York’s revelation "confirms some concern about the level of input the league’s players had on this new policy." Steelers President Art Rooney II noted he was "comfortable with the level of interaction with the Players Coalition" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/23).

SPLITTING THE TEAMS: In N.Y., Ken Belson writes the new policy may "lead to a host of challenges and recriminations if players decide to test the limits of the rules, and their owners' tolerance." Giving clubs the authority to punish players "sets up a situation where players in Seattle or Philadelphia may have one set of workplace rules while those in Houston or Dallas may have another." For a league that "likes to talk about unity, this rule creates a dynamic where some owners may fine players for not standing for the anthem, while others may be viewed as havens where players can speak their mind" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/24). In Houston, John McClain writes smart team owners "will stay away from penalizing their players by fining them if they kneel." A club policy like that "could backfire big time during free agency." Some players looking for new teams "might look right past owners with policies requiring players to be fined if they protest during the national anthem." Other owners "would be wise to follow Johnson's lead" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/24). 

SUPPORT SYSTEM: Cardinals President Michael Bidwill said he backs the new anthem policy. Bidwill: "We want our players to stand. The rule needed to be adjusted." He also said the Cardinals support players' social justice efforts (Mike Sunnucks, Staff Writer). Bills co-Owner & President Kim Pegula said, “One of the things that we wanted was a consensus from the ownership group on a policy going forward. But we know that there’s no exact right answer to this. This is a very delicate situation. ... It was a great compromise to get that done." She added, "We will not stop doing some of the programs that we put in place last year after talking to our players. I always talk about how we have a better sense of communication. I addressed the whole team last year about the situation. We’ve had internal talks among our staff and our teams and we’ve put in place a lot of programs. And that’s not going to away" (BUFFALO NEWS, 5/24).

HOW WILL PIECES FALL? In N.Y., Pat Leonard writes Giants President & CEO John Mara is "such a trusted and vital ally" of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell regarding league policy that the new anthem guidelines "in theory should reflect his own vision and the commissioner's as much as anyone's." Is the implication now that Mara "no longer will support those who decide to protest?" It will be "interesting to see Mara enforce this on his own Giants roster, actually, if he is implying that the days of players kneeling at MetLife Stadium are over" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/24). In Newark, Eliot Shorr-Parks writes the decision regarding fining players for kneeling puts Eagles Chair & CEO Jeffrey Lurie "in a tough spot." Would Lurie "fine a player on his roster if he protested during the anthem?" If he does, "how will that player react -- and how could it change the very tight bond that Lurie has with the leaders of his team?" If he "doesn't fine the players, how will the other owners react" to that decision? (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 5/24).