GLENDALE, Ariz. — Leave it to the Dallas Cowboys to add a new twist to pregame demonstrations.
With flamboyant owner Jerry Jones in the mix, the Cowboys briefly knelt as a collective unit in the middle of the field before the national anthem Monday night — a nod to the peaceful protests for racial equality that Colin Kaepernick began last year and were widely reignited over the weekend in the wake of Donald Trump’s intolerant rhetoric.
After rising from the field, the Cowboys walked to their sideline and stood with arms locked during The Star-Spangled Banner — keeping with the team’s tradition to honor the American flag and military.
The Cowboys seemingly had something for everybody before a national TV audience, playing to both sides of the fence amid anthem protests that have sparked emotional reactions from participants and fans alike.
“It was easy to see that the message about unity and equality was being pushed aside by the controversy,” Jones said at a news conference following Dallas’ 28-17 victory against the Arizona Cardinals.
He refused to directly address Trump’s public flogging of protesting NFL players and owners, which began Friday at a campaign rally in Alabama and has continued since in a series of tweets from the President. Jones was one of at least seven owners who donated to Trump’s campaign or inauguration festivities.
“I want our actions to be louder than words,” Jones said when asked about Trump. “We did it. We made our statement.”
It was Jones himself who presented the team with the idea of kneeling before the anthem, shortly before the team executed its multi-pronged demonstration.
“Initially, we had a certain plan, and that was what we were going to roll with. And then Jerry came and spoke to us before the game,” said wide receiver Brice Butler.
“It was, ‘Just trust me on this. Let’s do this together. Let’s do 15, 20 seconds of kneeling.’ That was Jerry’s plan. I actually liked it, because everybody did it. So it wasn’t like, ‘You didn’t do it, so you’re a sellout,’ or, ‘He did it.’ ”
So much for the notion that Jones would get rid of any player who took a knee. It had been speculated that Jones, the only owner yet to release a statement in response to Trump’s vitriolic message, previously told the Cowboys not to engage in anthem protests. Jones and players have denied that was the case, but it may have seemed plausible as Jones has repeatedly expressed his pride that no Dallas players had protested and was adamant in expressing his belief in the sanctity of the anthem.
Yet there he was, along with his three children, taking a knee Monday — the first NFL owner to do so. This was a startling image, even after other NFL team owners in several cases locked arms with players during the pre-game anthem Sunday.
“I can’t say enough about the understanding and the awareness of our team and these young men … who said, ‘That makes sense,’ ” Jones said. “There’s no need for us to talk about equality and have 60% of the country mad at you because you’re not perceived to be honoring the flag. That was a way to do both.”
It was classic Jones. The maverick businessman, recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has made his mark as a shrewd salesman and strategist who not only sizes up circumstances and opportunities but sells his ideas as well as anyone.
With a day to observe how other teams handled the political football, the Cowboys had the chance to come with their own signature gesture. The ideas began flowing in player-on-player conversations Saturday, which extended to meetings with coach Jason Garrett and his staff.
Said Garrett, “It’s been an interesting 48 hours.”
By the time the team arrived in Phoenix on Sunday, Jones had engaged in conversations with Cardinals ownership. The teams considered a joint demonstration, but ultimately the Cowboys decided — with the brainstorming including Jones and the players — to go with the approach of sending multiple messages. The Cardinals opted to have players stand in the end zone with their arms locked during the anthem while a huge American flag covered the field.
The final version of the Cowboys’ demonstration apparently wasn’t decided until Jones spoke to team less than an hour before kickoff.