Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has signaled that he will bench any football players on his team who kneel in protest during the U.S. national anthem. Jones' comments arrived weeks after he kneeled in solidarity with his players in response to President Donald Trump's criticisms of the NFL.
On Oct. 8, Jones spoke to reporters following a Cowboys game against the Green Bay Packers. The NFL team owner asserted that he would not allow his players to give the impression that they do not support the American flag.
"We cannot in the NFL, in any way, give the implication that we tolerate disrespecting the flag," Jones said, according to Yahoo News. "We cannot do that. I know the vice president did leave because in his opinion, the teams were."
Jones' comments referenced Vice President Mike Pence, who had briefly attended a game earlier the same day between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers. The vice president abruptly left the stadium after several 49ers players demonstrated during the national anthem, USA Today reports.
"While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I don't think it's too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem," Pence tweeted out after exiting the stadium.
Jones appeared to agree with Pence's sentiment.
"We know that there is a serious debate in this country about those issues," Jones continued. "But there is no question in my mind that the National Football League and the Dallas Cowboys are going to stand up for the flag. Just so we're clear."
The NFL team owner added: "If it comes between looking non-supportive of our players and of each other or creating the impression that you’re disrespecting the flag, we will be non-supportive of each other ... If there is anything disrespecting the flag, then we will not play."
On Sept. 25, Jones joined Cowboys players and staff in linking arms and kneeling before the national anthem during a game against the Arizona Cardinals. The demonstration followed Trump's calls for NFL players who protested during the anthem to be fired, according to ESPN.
Pence's walkout drew some criticism, with observers accusing the vice president of pre-planning his decision to exit the stadium in response to player protests.
"Don't remember as pure (or costly) a political stunt as Pence going to game intending to walk out," tweeted out national correspondent James Fallows of The Atlantic.
On Oct. 9, Trump took to social media to commend Pence for his demonstration.
"The trip by [Vice President] Pence was long planned," Trump tweeted out. "He is receiving great praise for leaving game after the players showed such disrespect for country!"
NFL players who kneel during the national anthem have repeatedly asserted that they are not protesting against U.S. military service members but against racial injustice.