President Donald Trump continues to pressure the NFL to punish players who do not stand for the national anthem after another weekend of sideline protests.
The issue could reach a crucial turning point on Tuesday when NFL team owners will hold their regularly scheduled meeting in New York. The league says it wants players to stand for the anthem, but also says it respects their opinions on social issues.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been the most outspoken team owner on the issue and now faces backlash for his public views. Local community activists believe Jones, and even the president, have hijacked the narrative by making recent protests on the football field about disrespecting the American flag when they say it's always been about race relations and police brutality.
An attorney watching the ordeal play out says it is turning into a first amendment rights issue. Community leaders are taking on Jones, who has now repeatedly said he will bench players who do not stand during the anthem.
“Your players should be free to express themselves,” said Freddie Haynes with the Friendship West Baptist Church. “Your players should be free to kneel for the national anthem. Because when they kneel for the national anthem, they are standing up for what America is all about.”
When asked about the ‘no kneeling’ mandate last Wednesday, Cowboys players remained silent.
However, one group of protestors are a lot more vocal and are using the Dallas Police Department as a symbolic backdrop. They say the movement has always been about peacefully protesting race relations in America.
“Because, under this, I am a black man. And black lives do matter,” said protestor Ernest Walker.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the protest movement last season, is now taking his case to court. Over the weekend, the free agent filed a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement, claiming no NFL team will sign him because of collusion by team owners upset by his actions.
John Wooten is a former NFL player and scout for the Dallas Cowboys. He supported Muhammad Ali when Ali protested war. Now, he wants to help Kaepernick refocus his cause. He believes Kaepernick should have vocalized his intentions to both the American people and the owner of the 49ers before taking a knee during the anthem.
"That's the same thing we would've said to Kaepernick. ‘What do you really want to do here? Let us help you to sort this out,’” Wooten said.
Wooten and a few of his NFL friends, who are also activists, say they contacted Kaepernick's representatives when the protests started to try to support and advise him.
"We were denied that,” he said. “And that bothered me."
Wooten says they were denied again two weeks ago. He says there are NFL owners who might have been on board with Kaepernick, as an athlete and activist, if he and his friends could've helped make connections.
Wooten believes Kaepernick is doing the right thing, but says it’s “gone way overboard. It's way out of line."
Attorney Chris Hamilton, who is not involved in the case, says Kaepernick could have a valid argument.
“I think a lot of the public presumes there was retaliation against Kaepernick,” Hamilton said. “But he's going to have to bring evidence: emails, text messages, meeting minutes, calendar entries.”
And when it comes to the ongoing NFL player protest, Hamilton says the president's own words could protect players who opt to take the knee.
“President Trump stepped in it when he directed league owners to take action when kneeling,” Hamilton explained. “And there is now a very serious first amendment issue that could be brought against the president and the league.”
The league policy says players should stand, but that's just a guideline. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hinted there will not be a change in policy, but instead a discussion about supporting players' involvement in social issues and change.