That Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is a unifier and a consensus builder was never more evident than Monday night.
It was Jones who came up with the idea for the Cowboys’ organized, coordinated and unified response to President Donald Trump’s criticism of NFL players for protesting racial inequality during the national anthem.
Jones, who donated $1 million through one of his companies to Trump’s inaugural committee, refused to call out the president for his controversial remarks, but took pride in how the team handled the situation that ultimately was his creation.
The Cowboys, including Jones, came to the field before the anthem with linked arms and then took a knee together, some in prayer. They then walked to the sideline and stood for the anthem, still linked arm in arm, before the team’s 28-17 victory against the Arizona Cardinals.
“I was just happy we were able to do something together,” receiver Brice Butler said. “Initially, we had a certain plan. Then Jerry (Jones) came and spoke to us before the game and was like, “Just trust me on this, let’s do this together.’ That was Jerry’s plan. I actually liked it because everybody did it.”
Another Cowboys player, who planned to take a knee during the anthem, said they didn’t know what they were going to do until right before the game. He said it was all Jones, who leaned on his long-standing relationships with his players and support in the face of criticism.
“I enjoy a lot of confidence that our players know that I know my way around the NFL and know that this was a way to basically do both,” Jones said. “So, as you know, I’ve had a lot of criticism over the years for being too close, or being too supportive, of players. So, I don’t ever have to worry about being trusted, or for that matter, believing that we can do it.
“There’s no question we wanted to do something that others could take a look at and say, ‘This is the way to make a statement about that.’ I just don’t believe we’ve gotten to the point in this country where we have to basically be disrespectful of the flag, yet stand up and say, ‘Look. We’re against, and we need to do some things about unity and about equality.’ I don’t know why you have to create controversy, much less controversy regarding the flag. This is an answer to it.”
“I’m very proud of the fact that the Dallas Cowboys and our players have always stood,” Jones said. “Always stood for the flag and stood to the flag and the recognition of the flag, always. What is important is to figure out that to do that and to show the kind of respect and the perception of respect, how could they, basically, in front of a national audience, show unity and a statement for equality. There’s no need for us to talk about unity and equality and have 60 percent of this country mad at you because you’re not doing, or not perceived, to be honoring the flag. This was a way to do both.”
Jones’ message and the Cowboys model certainly resonated with the NFL office, league spokesman Joe Lockhart said.
“If you look back over the last year and then some, these protests started to draw attention to racial equality and social justice in America,” Lockhart said. “Over the last few weeks, this has been obscured by divisive political rhetoric in the country. Overall, the night – particularly with the Cowboys kneeling before the anthem – powerfully refocused these protests where they belong on issues of equality and social justice, issues our players care deeply about, our commissioner feels deeply about, and all across the NFL family.”
Jones declined to offer an opinion on Trump’s criticism of the league’s players and his suggestion that the owners should fire anyone who didn’t stand for the national anthem.
He readily agrees that the players should stand for the anthem and the flag should be respected.
“One of the things that we didn’t do was look at anyone’s suggestions or ideas,” said a hesitating Jones before continuing. “No one’s. Not the league’s, not anybody’s idea. Our players, and that’s why I’m so proud of them, and our coaches and our organization, decided that this would be a great way to do what I just described and it worked.”
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Actually, Jones decided it himself.