New York Jets coach Todd Bowles will not stand in the way of any of his players protesting during the national anthem.
No Jets players have indicated that they would opt to not stand during the performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as then-San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick did last season. But Bowles made it clear that those actions would be each player’s prerogative.
“It’s their individual right,” the coach said after practice Wednesday. “We don’t have a rule book on what’s right to protest and not protest. 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?”
Kaepernick, who is currently a free agent, staged a silent protest last season as he decided to kneel on the sideline during the playing of the anthem before games.
Other NFL players joined Kaepernick last season in a show of support, and at least three have protested during the anthem in the first week of preseason games.
Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett and Oakland running back Marshawn Lynch both sat, while Los Angeles Rams defensive end Robert Quinn raised his right fist.
“As a football team, politics and people are human — they’re part of it — so you can’t say what’s good or bad,” Bowles said. “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 said he and his players regularly discuss current events, but hadn’t yet talked about last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“It’s more than football with us,” Bowles said. “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. 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.”
Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams said he would “obviously support” any teammate who chose to stage a protest.
“Everybody has a freedom of speech and the right to do what they want to do,” he said. “At the same time, I would try to tell them to stay focused on us.”