NFL should let players protest without retribution, union exec says

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NFL favorability taking a hit from National Anthem protests?

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NFL players’ union director DeMaurice Smith called Monday for the league’s team owners to allow players to protest “without retribution,” hours after Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the franchise would “not play” any player who disrespects the flag during the national anthem.  

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“Last week both [NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell] and the chair of the NFL Management Council John Mara were clear when they assured our union leaders, in presence of other owners, that they would respect the Constitutional right of our members without retribution,” Smith said in a statement.

Smith’s comments came amid continuing clashes between President Donald Trump’s administration and NFL players over national anthem protests. Dozens of NFL players have conducted demonstrations in recent weeks after Trump called on league owners to fire anyone who kneels during the national anthem

Last month, Jones joined arms with Cowboys players in kneeling, then standing for the national anthem before a Sept. 25 game with the Arizona Cardinals. However, the Cowboys owner said Sunday that his players will stand for the national anthem going forward.

"If there's anything that is disrespectful to the flag, then we will not play," Jones said after the Cowboys' loss to the Green Bay Packers. "Understand? We will not ... if we are disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period."

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Jones spoke shortly after Vice President Mike Pence abruptly left a game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers after several players knelt during the national anthem. Trump tweeted support for Pence on Sunday, stating that he was “proud of him.”

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In addressing the protests, Smith said “no player is disrespecting our country or our flag” through the national anthem protests.

“As thousands have shown in the past, it takes bravery and courage to speak and confront these issues as our players have, especially when it is unpopular with some,” he continued. “There is room for management to do the same and maybe then players do not have to risk the taunts and threats alone.”

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