The NFL Players Association has asserted that football players who kneel during the U.S. national anthem are not disrespecting the American flag or military service members and should not be reprimanded for protesting against racial injustice.
The announcement came after Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones signaled that he would bench any of his players who demonstrated during the anthem.
On Oct. 9, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith released an official statement on social media announcing that the league leadership had pledged that players would not be punished for protesting during the anthem.
"Last week both the [NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Chair of the NFL Management Council John Mara were clear when they assured our union leaders, in the presence of other owners, that they would respect the Constitutional Rights of our members without retribution."
On Oct. 8, Jones told reporters that he would reprimand any Cowboys player who chose to kneel during the anthem.
"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," Jones said, according to Yahoo News. "We will not disrespect the flag ... If there is anything disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period."
On Sept. 25, Jones linked arms with team players and staff as they knelt before a game against the Arizona Cardinals. The demonstration occurred before the national anthem and was perceived as a response to President Donald Trump's calls for NFL team owners to fire players who protested, The Washington Post reports.
Smith appeared to criticize Jones' latest remarks without naming the NFL team owner in his statement.
"I look forward to the day when everyone in Management can unite and truly embrace and articulate what the Flag stands for: 'Liberty and Justice for All' instead of some of them just talking about standing," Smith continued. "We look forward to continuing our talks with them on this very issue."
The NFLPA director asserted that football players who protested during the anthem were not disrespecting American values but reaffirming them.
"No players is disrespecting our Country or our flag," Smith said. "As thousands have shown in the past, it takes bravery and courage to speak and confront these issues as our players have, especially when it is unpopular with some."
In August 2016, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting during the national anthem to protest against police brutality and racial inequality.
"To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way," Kaepernick told NFL Media. "There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."