Hot on the heels of the NFL announcing its new policy on racial justice protests during the national anthem, one NFL team chairman says he'll pay his players' fines if they choose to continue their public protests. Specifically, New York Jets chairman Christopher Johnson, who has a very particular connection to the Trump administration ― his brother, Jets owner Woody Johnson, is Trump's U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom.
As The Hill detailed, Johnson spoke out after the announcement of the NFL's new anthem rule changes ― players can decide not to come out to the field for the anthem, but teams will be assessed fines in players who do come out refuse to stand ― saying that while he'd rather Jets players stand, he doesn't want to prohibit their right to protest.
"Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest,” he reportedly said.
“There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines,” he continued. “I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t.”
According to The New York Times, at least one NFL owner ― Jed York of the San Francisco 49ers, the team that employed quarterback Colin Kaepernick when he originated the protests in 2016 ― abstained from the vote approving the new rule.
The NFL Players Association, better known as the NFLPA, has already released a statement in response to the new anthem policy, stating that it was not consulted in the process and that it'll challenge any aspect it believes is in violation of the collective bargaining agreement.
The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new "policy." NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about.
The vote by NFL club CEOs today contradicts the statements made to our player leadership by Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Chairman of the NFL's Management Council John Mara about the principles, values and patriotism of our League.
Our union will review the new "policy" and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.
Suffice to say, the player's union does not sound immensely thrilled with the league's decision, as emphasized by the use of scare quotes around the word "policy." It's clear that Vice President Mike Pence, however, supports the new change, as demonstrated in a tweet on Wednesday.
Both Christopher and Woody Johnson are grandchildren of Robert Wood Johnson, the co-founder of the Johnson & Johnson corporate empire. As such, both men are massively wealthy, which sort of figures ― you can't own or be the CEO of a major professional sports team without a lot of money to your name.
As such, it probably won't be that hard for them to cover whatever fines might be levied if a player decides to kneel or sit during the anthem, although notably, the NFL has not yet given any information about how much the fine would be.
This new policy comes after a year of scrutiny and controversy, including ferocious criticism from President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly urged the NFL to take punitive actions against protesting players. Contrary to widespread perceptions, the demonstrations have not been protests of the anthem itself, but rather ongoing racial injustices within the United States. Kaepernick, who was the first player to protest in this fashion, went unsigned for the entire 2017-2018 season, and is currently suing the NFL for collusion.