SportsPulse: From Oxnard, NFL insider Jarrett Bell reacts to Jerry Jones stating that all his players are required to stand during the national anthem.
Let me see if I have this right: Wearing a hat during the national anthem, as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones did last month, is fine. Same for Jones’ team and most others keeping the beer lines flowing while The Star Spangled Banner plays. But quietly demonstrating to protest racism and social injustice is disrespectful and anti-American?
Jones’ hypocrisy, which he ratcheted up Sunday by refusing to comment, apologize or otherwise illuminate his disrespect for the anthem, illustrates why NFL owners are never going to win the fight over the player protests. And it’s not simply because the president is going to dog whistle the issue any chance he gets to rile up his base ahead of the mid-term elections.
The players know exactly why they’re protesting, and are passionate about the issues that have prompted them to take a knee or raise a fist. They have spent their off days and offseason lobbying legislators, promoting ballot initiatives and meeting with underprivileged and at-risk kids.
If you were at the Carolina Panthers’ final training camp practice at Wofford College on Monday, in fact, you would have seen veteran wide receiver Torrey Smith on the field afterward, talking to a group of teenage boys. They were from AMIKids White Pines, a residential program for kids convicted of non-violent crimes, and Smith wanted to make sure they knew they can still make something of their lives.
“My message to them was about not letting your past define you,” Smith said, according to the Charlotte Observer.
“When you make a mistake when you’re young, it doesn’t forgive you. It’s going to hang with you when you want to get a job, when you need a loan, whatever it may be. And sometimes people don’t get it removed. So I just talked to them about not letting that hold them back. Not letting society put pressure on them or hold them back. And figuring out what success looks like for them.”
Smith, you might recall, was among the Players’ Coalition members who came out for practice earlier this month in T-shirts with the slogan #SchoolsNotPrisons to call attention to the number of incarcerated kids.
The owners, on the other hand, really don’t care about the anthem, the military, law enforcement or anything else. Their concern is protecting their bottom line, and they see the protests, and Trump’s Tweets about them, as a threat to that.
Oh, Jones and son Stephen talk a good game, blustering about how no one in a Cowboys uniform will ever protest during the anthem.
“You stand at the anthem, toe on the line,” the elder Jones said July 25.
What’s that old John Wooden quote, though? The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one’s watching?
Three days later, Jones kept his Cowboys baseball hat on while a trumpeter played the national anthem during the ceremony to open the team’s training camp. In one video, Stephen Jones even appeared to tell his father to remove his hat, and yet the hat stayed on.
That, of course, is in violation of the U.S. Code. Title 36, to be exact.
“During a rendition of the national anthem … men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart,” the code reads.
And no, wearing a Cowboys polo shirt doesn’t count as being in uniform.
The NFL loves its faux displays of patriotism, and somewhere along the way Jones began confusing them with the real thing. The flyovers, the oversized flags, the Whitney Houston wannabes – those are merely props. It’s the tireless — and in the players’ case, the thankless – work of striving for that more perfect union our founders envisioned that is the truest display of patriotism.
It would be nice if Jones recognized that. Short of that, he should at least keep his hypocrisy to himself.
And his hat off his head when the anthem plays.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.