Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones always has been a maverick.
Jones did deals with Nike and Pepsi when the rest of the NFL went with Reebok and Coke. He wasn’t a contrarian but a trendsetter, because where he went the rest of the league would typically follow.
That is not the case with his position on making it mandatory for players to stand for the national anthem.
Although Jones said last week that he would bench any player who refused to stand during the pregame flag ceremony — a position endorsed by President Trump — he doesn’t seem to be building anything close to a consensus among fellow owners. In this case, Jones is the outlier.
At the close of the league’s fall meetings Wednesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated what he has said all along: Players should stand for the anthem, but the league is not changing its rules to make that a requirement.
“We believe everyone should stand for the national anthem,” Goodell said. “That’s an important part of our policy.”
He added: “Our players will state to you publicly they are not doing this in any way to be disrespectful to the flag,” and that the league is “not looking to get into politics, but what we’re looking to do is continue to give people a focus on football.”
That the league did not make standing for the anthem mandatory did not escape the notice of the president, who Wednesday morning tweeted: “The NFL has decided that it will not force players to stand for our National Anthem. Total disrespect for our great country!”
Asked about Trump’s tweet, New York Giants co-owner John Mara smiled wearily and sarcastically said: “I’m shocked.”
Pressed for a reaction, Mara said: “We’re all aware that’s going to continue but we can’t allow ourselves to get baited by that. We’re going to do what we think is right.”
His remarks about benching players have sparked significant controversy, prompting criticism from the NAACP, Jesse Jackson, a Fort Worth labor union, and the pastor of a Dallas mega-church who referred to the warning as “plantation politics.”
Jones subsequently explained he wanted to take the pressure off his players, so they wouldn’t have to defend standing to their family and friends because their playing careers hinged on that. The explanation did little to quiet the criticism.
Asked if it’s tenable that one NFL team could have rules about standing that differ from the rules of the other 31 teams, Mara said: “I don’t know if it’s tenable or not. That’s not going to be the policy of my team. Listen, we all want everybody to stand. But as far as I’m concerned, I want the players to stand because they want to stand, as opposed to me having to tell them that.”
Before the owners met Tuesday for the two-day meetings, a group of 13 current and former players met at league headquarters with 11 team owners, as well as executives from the league and players’ union. The goal was to open a dialog so the NFL could get more involved in the social causes that matter to the players.
Although nothing concrete came out of that four-hour meeting, the group talked about a range of possibilities for how to use the league’s considerable platform to effect change.
One of the players in that meeting, Philadelphia’s Chris Long, announced Wednesday that he would be donating his final 10 regular-season game checks to organizations in Philadelphia, New England and St. Louis — the three cities in which he played — devoted to “making education easily accessible to underserved youth while also providing students the support they need to develop strong social and emotional character.”
Long, who has an annual base salary of $1 million and is the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long, already had pledged his first six game checks to fund scholarships in his hometown of Charlottesville, Va.
Mara said he expects there will be another meeting with players within the next couple of weeks.
“The dialog and communication we’ve had with the players over the last three or four weeks has been the best in my memory,” he said. “We’ve had great conversations with them. The chance for them to sit down with owners and exchange ideas and views has been very helpful.”
Draft in Big D
The NFL decided Wednesday that its 2018 draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
It will mark the first time the draft has been held inside a stadium, although the place will be set up as an indoor-outdoor venue with the roof and giant doors open. The draft takes place April 26-28.
Philadelphia played host to last year’s draft, and the crowd there vigorously booed Goodell.
The reaction could be more vehement in Texas, in light of Goodell’s on-again, off-again suspension of star Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer