DALLAS - The Houston Texans opened up the 2020 NFL season protesting the national anthem by remaining in their locker room. Other teams were expected to follow suit, kicking off a year to remember in professional sports.
The Dallas Cowboys are a popular pick to be a Super Bowl contender under head coach Mike McCarthy, with quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott leading an offense that was one of the NFL's best last season.
But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones feels that there’s more on the line than just a Vince Lombardi Trophy.
During an interview with FOX Sports’ Erin Andrews, Jones recalled his response to Colin Kaepernick initiating the dialogue now echoed by major figures in sports by kneeling during the national anthem to protest social injustice and police brutality.
When asked if Jones would support his team in continued protest, he said, “There is no question that our Dallas Cowboy players have all of the respect and all of the sensitivity and all of the respect that our fans have for the flag,” he said. “On the other hand, our players also want to use this platform and I want them to, to say, ‘Hey, help us out.’”
Amid the calls for change within the professional sports world, not every team has disclosed whether they’ll participate in a form of pregame protest after a summer of social upheaval and calls for racial justice.
Jones said he has always tried to remain supportive of his players while avoiding statements that would rile up the conservative segment of the Cowboys’ massive fan base.
But Jones’ tone was quite different two years ago at training camp, when he said he wouldn’t allow players to stay in the locker room during the anthem, issuing his memorable “toe on the line” declaration. He threatened to bench any player who took a knee during the national anthem just a few weeks after locking arms with players and taking a knee just before a game with the Arizona Cardinals, during the anthem in 2017.
Jones hasn’t said it in so many words, but it appears his hard-line stance requiring players to stand during the anthem has eased amid a national reckoning over racial justice.
“We all do understand where I stand relative to the national anthem and the flag," Jones said recently on his radio show. “On the other hand, I really do recognize the time we’re in."
“This is a huge issue,” Jones told the Associated Press. “I’m very sensitive to that, and that’s exactly why I have said and will want our players to be very sensitive to just how important it is to the majority of our fans, more than any other team. I’m very confident that on both sides, our players, as well as our fans, that we can come together for our grace. It is all about trying to move the ball forward, see where the other guy is coming from.”
Defensive tackle Dontari Poe, a free agent addition in the offseason, reiterated earlier this month that he intended to kneel. While no other Cowboys have said they will join Poe, there has been plenty of talk about team unity with whatever they do.
“I was just pretty much saying something, saying I was going to do something that I felt was right for me and for others,” Poe said. “Not saying that anybody else is wrong for not doing it or whatever their cause is, but I just felt like I just wanted to do it for me and the statement I wanted to make.”
That being said, Jones and his Cowboys are here to play ball.
Teams like Tampa Bay may boast a dream team with the acquisition of Tom Brady Forbes recently estimated Dallas as the NFL’s most valuable franchise at $5.7 billion, the 14th consecutive year they've held that distinction. Players like Prescott, Amari Cooper and Chidobe Awuzie are there to ensure Dallas' dominance throughout the season.
As for the Super Bowl win? Jones recalled that the last time his team won the championship he said he’d never ask again if “you’ll just give me this one.”
“Well I’ve been trying to re-trade that deal for the last 20 years,” Jones said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.