On Thursday, a day after the NFL announced its new national anthem policy, Jets CEO Christopher Johnson called a meeting with his team and addressed all his players at once for the first time since he took over the ownership role from his brother, Woody, before last season.
Johnson wanted to reiterate his support for his players, something he first stated publicly in the aftermath of the NFL’s announcement. The new policy forces players and team personnel on the field to “stand and show respect for the flag and anthem.” If this rule is not followed, the NFL has the authority to fine teams. In response to this, Johnson said his organization would not pass fines on to players who kneel or otherwise demonstrate during the anthem.
Johnson then conveyed this message to his players directly in the meeting Thursday. And they remain deeply thankful of the stance the Jets owner has taken on this highly polarizing and layered issue.
“He said it was a tough thing to deal with, and he’s in this with us,” wide receiver Jermaine Kearse told the Daily News Tuesday of the team meeting. “We’re all in it together.
“Communication is an important aspect of this organization, and he communicated to us,” Kearse added after the Jets finished their fourth OTA practice in Florham Park. “That’s something that I know I appreciated. I can’t speak for everybody else, but I think a lot of people appreciated that.”
Linebacker Darron Lee said the meeting focused primarily on staying together as a team. Last season, after President Trump referred to kneeling and demonstrating NFL players as SOBs, league-wide protests ensued. The Jets, though, decided instead to stand side-by-side with their arms linked in a show of unity prior to their Week 3 game against the Dolphins at MetLife Stadium.
Before the Jets came to that agreement as a group, Johnson spoke to each player in the locker room individually to hear all thoughts and concerns. He ended up participating in the show of unity after getting permission from the players.
So for Lee, Johnson’s speech to the team Thursday was just a reiteration of everything the owner stood for last season. But that doesn’t take away from the significance of the gesture.
“That’s huge,” Lee said. “We as a collective and as a team, we want to discuss those frustrations and everything as a team, if you may have them. You don’t want anybody lashing out and making them feel like they’re alone. So that’s why we try to make it a group thing. Let’s decide on something as a group and as a unit. It’s dope, on whatever we decide as a group and as a unite, that our owner has our back.”
It should be noted that, in an interview with Newsday, Johnson admitted to supporting the rule when it was being discussed in the NFL owners meetings last week. Over the weekend, ESPN reported that a formal role-call vote for the new policy was never taken. Rather, the league called for a show of hands among the owners, and no one voted against the policy in this informal process.
Players in the Jets locker room aren’t too concerned with Johnson supporting the policy in the owners meetings, though. They’ve seen how he’s acted. They’ve listened to what he’s said. And they believe Johnson is genuine in his pursuit of legitimate, tangible progress when it comes to solving the issue of racial injustice in America — the primary concern of the initial protester, Colin Kaepernick.
“People can say, ‘Oh, he voted for the thing,” Kearse said. “He communicated to us the situation, and he said what he had to say to us, and we were like, ‘Cool.’ It’s not like we just stop here. He’s actively involved.