One of the key planks in the argument posed by opponents of the NFL’s protests is that players don’t have the right to protest while on the job, that owners have the final say as to what can and can’t be said in the workplace.
Now that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has explicitly stated that players who kneel for the anthem won’t be playing, a labor union is challenging Jones’ presumption of all-encompassing power over his employees.
Local 100 of the United Labor Unions has filed a complaint charging that Jones’s implicit demands of players violated the National Labor Relations Act. “[T]he employer, evidenced by repeated public statements, is attempting to threaten, coerce and intimidate all Dallas Cowboys players on the roster in order to prevent them from exercising concerted activity protected under the act by saying that he will fire any players involved in such concerted activity,” the National Labor Relations Board said in its filing.
Jones has not actually threatened to fire players, instead saying they “will not play,” but a labor union spokesman told ESPN that is a “distinction without difference when it comes to the law.”
The NFL’s game operations manual has said players “should” stand for the anthem, a stance NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reaffirmed Tuesday in a memo to team owners. “Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem,” Goodell wrote. But there’s a gap between “should” and “must,” and in trying to bridge that gap, Jones overreached, the labor union contends.
The NLRB will investigate the case and will take it to trial if it determines a violation occurred and a settlement can’t be reached.
Meanwhile, Jones appeared to moderate his stance the tiniest bit on Tuesday, allowing for the possibility of pre-anthem protests similar to what the Cowboys did prior to their game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3. “If we’re going to have any other recognition the place to have it is before the anthem in my view and be real clear that it’s not associated with the anthem,” Jones told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. “I think it’s real important for our players that they have that to reply to anybody whether they’re asking them to express themselves or not that the way we do it where I work, where I earn my livelihood, is that we stand for the flag.”
It’s impossible to overstate the new distraction that Jones has now created in the Cowboys’ locker room, as well as others across the NFL. Players must decide whether paychecks outweigh principles, and star players must decide whether to take the heat for lesser-known teammates. This story isn’t going away, and it’s no longer just the players driving the narrative.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.
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