Any NFL player who decides to kneel on the field during the national anthem in the upcoming season will be poorer as a result.
Unless he plays for the Jets.
NFL team owners voted unanimously, with one abstention, to punish players who kneel on the field during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But Jets chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson announced his team wouldn’t fine players. And that the organization would pay any league-imposed fines.
“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules,” Johnson told Newsday. “If somebody [on the Jets] 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. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. 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.”
In Week 3 of the 2017 season, when anthem protests against racial inequality were at their most prevalent, Johnson locked arms with Jets players on the field during the pregame rendition.
In March, Johnson joined several Jets and the Players Coalition in urging New York to reform the criminal justice system.
He also resisted the new anthem rules.
“I just think that trying to forcibly get the players to shut up is a fantastically bad idea,” he said during owners meetings in March.
Still, he voted in favor of the change, which allows players to remain in the locker room during the anthem.
“I seriously struggled with this,” Johnson said. “You know my position on the anthem, and you have to understand that the plan we ended up with, due to some serious work in the [meeting] room, was vastly less onerous than the one that was presented to me late last week. In the end, I felt I had to support it from a membership standpoint.”
But the team’s paying any incurred fines illustrates his support of the players.
“Even without those fines, this is going to be tough on the players, and I want a chance to speak with the coaches and other players to get feedback on this policy and to build on the good work and momentum that we have built up on these issues of social justice, on legislation, and all the things that we can do,” Johnson said. “I don’t think that this policy will interfere with that at all.
“I have a really good relationship with the players, and I hope we can keep that going and I trust that we will. I’m so proud of our players and their efforts to date. I think that is the most important thing to get across. I could not be more proud of the guys.”
The Jets might end up paying nothing to the league for protests; with Johnson’s early public support of protesting players, zero Jets kneeled during the anthem last season.
The NFL could probably stand to learn something from Johnson, if they could bother learning anything that doesn’t result in increased short-term profits.