Though the national conversation and debate started with current free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit (or kneel) during the National Anthem as a method of protest before NFL games, he was neither the only to do so. And he’s not the last; both Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett and Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch did so in their respective team’s first preseason games and is something that both men plan to continue doing throughout the 2017 season.
Thus, as it was a year ago, discussion has quickly shifted from exactly why these players are choosing to protest but to whether or not protests of this manner should be viewed with acceptance. And one way that discussion has lived on is by asking other players and coaches their thoughts on Kaepernick’s, Lynch’s and Bennett’s choices. Such was the case at Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson’s press conference on Monday.
When asked to give his reaction should a Browns player choose to sit during the National Anthem, Jackson responded:
“I think everybody has a right to do, and I get it, but the National Anthem means a lot to myself personally, the organization and our football team. I hope—again I can’t speak, I haven’t really talked to our team about it—I would hope that we don’t have those issues. I understand there is a lot going on in the world. I like to just keep it here. What we deal with, we try to deal with as a team in our closed environment. We talk about things. Hopefully, that won’t happen. I can’t tell you it won’t happen, but I just know our guys, and I don’t think that is where our focus is. We hope the things that are going on in the world get ironed out, but I know right now we are doing everything we can to get our football team better.”
While not a boilerplate “stick to football” response, nor one that passes particular judgement over any of his players’ choices when it comes to political expression, it is one that suggests that it would be best if the Browns would have these discussions in-house, in the locker room, and that the football field is limited to being the place where games are played and nothing more.
It’s not an improper response, especially when considering the Browns’ heavy focus on their ongoing roster rebuild, nor when considering the type of overwhelming and often negative attention teams are receiving when their players choose to sit during the Anthem as a form of protest. But it’s clearly a sign that NFL players using their prominence and visibility to advance political beliefs remains a controversial issue, one with a reach that extends beyond just those players and coaches who have chosen to make such stands.