Take a Knee: New York Jets CEO Backs NFL Players' Rights to Protest

Any attempts to prevent NFL players from protesting during the national anthem would be a bad idea, and players should be allowed to voice their dissent as they see fit, New York Jets chief executive and chairman Christopher Johnson said.

On Sunday, franchise owners convened at the NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida, and the subject of how to handle the protests during the national anthem featured prominently among the items on the agenda.

GettyImages-853070100
Christopher Johnson, CEO of the New York Jets, stands with his team during the national anthem prior to an NFL game against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium on September 24, 2017. Getty Images

In 2016, the NFL became involved in a political storm when then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick opted to kneel rather than stand during the national anthem as an act of silent protest against social and racial injustice.

Kaepernick's act drew a mixed response within the sport and outside the NFL's sphere, but it also served as an example for a number of other NFL players who chose to emulate their colleague.

Last year, Donald Trump urged franchise owners to fire athletes who chose not to stand for the national anthem before games. Johnson disagreed.

"I have some pretty strong feelings about that," Johnson said, as reported by the New York Post.

"I don't approve of changing the current status. I know there's some discussion of keeping players off the field until after the anthem. I think that that's a particularly bad idea."

The issue of on-field protests became particularly heated in September, after Trump suggested the response to players who chose not to stand up during the anthem should be to "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now."

Johnson was among the NFL executives who spoke about the issue with his players and became involved in discussions aimed at dealing with racial injustice.

None of the Jets players knelt last year, instead choosing to link arms with one another—including Johnson—during the anthem.

"I just think the Jets had a pretty great thing happen last year around the anthem," Johnson was quoted as saying by Newsday.com.

"I think there was an understanding between me and the players that we could use our position to get some great stuff done off the field. I have immense respect for the players and their efforts, and I think if some of the other teams approached it like that, there wouldn't be such a problem in the NFL."

In October last year, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote to the teams suggesting it was in the league's best interest to adopt a uniform approach to deal with the issue.

Goodell's letter came after Vice President Mike Pence walked out of a game in Indianapolis between the Colts and the San Francisco 49ers when some of the visiting players knelt during the anthem.

Meanwhile, Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who had previously joined the protest, reversed his stance and insisted players who disrespected the U.S. flag should not be allowed to play.

Johnson said a blanket approach would be counterproductive.

"I can't speak to how other people run their teams," Johnson said, per the New York Post. "I just think that trying to forcibly get the players to shut up is a fantastically bad idea."

Take a Knee: New York Jets CEO Backs NFL Players' Rights to Protest | Sports