Political protests surrounding the national anthem has been a talking point around the NFL for well over a year. For New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles, it is more about an individual’s convictions than anything else as he says he won’t look to influence his roster’s opinion on it one way or another.
Some NFL players have been kneeling or sitting for the national anthem for at least a year, a quiet protest that nonetheless has had a noisy impact on headlines and sports talk shows.
The protest movement has been a response by certain athletes who have perceived recent events in the news, many of them touching on matters of race and equality, as worthy of a protest. Most if not all have done so respectfully and quietly.
And while neither of the New York teams in the NFL has had to deal with these protest actions by their players, protests this week have again taken center stage given the news headlines out of Charlottesville, VA this week. It might well push some players to act.
“Well, it’s their individual right. We don’t have a rulebook on what’s right to protest and not protest,” Bowles said on Wednesday. “You don’t know those things until the course of time, whether it’s sitting for the anthem, whether it’s raising your fist, whether it’s speaking out, whether it’s the Walk to Washington, who is to say whose protest is good or bad? As a football team, politics and people are human – they’re part of it – so you can’t say what’s good or bad. I’m sure mostly everybody – I know I’m against racism, segregation and all that other stuff, but how do we come to an answer? I don’t have that answer. How do we come to a common ground? I don’t have that answer. It’s a hell of a debate and a hell of a topic. It needs to stop. I don’t have the answers to that, but who is to say whose protest is good or bad? That’s just the way they feel and that’s their right to express it.”
Bowles, of course, would rather be talking football and the rebuilding of his team but he acknowledges that recent events are something he talks about with his players. An NFL locker room is not unlike an office water cooler, a place where different viewpoints and worldviews intersect.
Look no further than the stir made by Tom Brady last year when a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat was spotted in his locker. The slogan was the campaign rallying cry for President Donald Trump last year and continues to be his banner now that he is in the White House. Just the mere presence of the hat led to weeks of questions and speculation about the New England Patriots quarterback’s political leanings.
While Bowles said he hasn’t talked about Charlottesville and the violent clashes between white supremacists and the Antifa movement, he is keenly aware that the players in his locker room might be convicted to protest. Bowles, a former NFL player himself, trusts his athletes to form their own opinions and responses.
“We’ve talked about it. We talk about current events all the time. It’s more than football with us. We talk about a lot of things. It’s a different topic – everybody has their own feelings about it. You can’t sway anybody one way or the other,” Bowles said. ‘We’re all grown men here, so that’s how people feel, that has nothing to do with what they do in practice and what they do on the field, but separately off the field, they are going to feel the way they feel.”