FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Jermaine Kearse was far from pleased last week when he heard the details of the NFL’s new policy on the national anthem.
The veteran wide receiver and his New York Jets teammates couldn’t be happier, though, to have the full support of acting owner Christopher Johnson.
“For me personally, I’m very appreciative of him,” Kearse said after practice Tuesday. “I think he kind of gets it.”
NFL owners voted last Wednesday to require players to stand for the anthem or stay in the locker room. Teams will be fined if players don’t stand. Some players have been kneeling during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games the last two seasons to protest police brutality and racial inequality.
“Honestly, I’m disappointed,” Kearse said. “I think they’re kind of missing the point. For us as a team, I think if you’ve paid attention, nobody on our team kneeled, but that doesn’t mean we don’t support the causes of why people are kneeling.”
Johnson said shortly after the league announced the policy that he will not punish his players for any peaceful protests — and would pay any potential fines incurred by the team as a result of his players’ actions.
“To me, honestly, the conversation about whether players are kneeling or not, I felt like that conversation was dying and it didn’t get brought up until they decided to make the rules,” Kearse said. “So, I think we’re kind of getting away from the actual cause. I think we’re starting to focus on the kneeling part rather than the cause behind it.
“I wish they would be more like Chris, to be quite honest, and support the players and actively be involved and have those conversations with their players.”
Added coach Todd Bowles: “It’s always nice to have the owner have your back. It’s about the issues for us. We didn’t have a problem a year ago. We’ll continue to talk as a group, as a team and as an organization, and go forward from there.”
Left tackle Kelvin Beachum echoed Kearse’s sentiments about the NFL’s new policy. Beachum and quarterback Josh McCown are part of the Players Coalition, an advocacy group of NFL players that has had discussions with league owners on social matters.
“It is disappointing, but it is what it is at this point,” Beachum said. “We’ve been talking about this issue for a number of years and the league finally made a decision. We’re going to still continue to do the work. Our owner supports us in doing that work and he’s with us as we’re doing that work. So we’re not going to keep talking this game and keep talking about the anthem. We’re actually going to do something about it and go find a solution.”
Johnson met with the entire team last week and explained to the players why he voted in favor of the new NFL rule — only San Francisco’s Jed York abstained — while also assuring them they would not be punished by the team if they did not adhere to the league’s policy.
“He’s very supportive of us,” Kearse said. “I mean, whether guys choose to or not, he supports our decision — their decision — but like I said, nobody last year kneeled. The fact that he’ll support us any way he can is a very gratifying feeling.”
Johnson took over the day-to-day operations of the team last June from his brother Woody, who is serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom in President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump frequently has been critical of players who have protested during the anthem, so it would appear a tough spot for the younger Johnson while balancing business, politics and family.
But Christopher Johnson immediately earned his players’ respect last year when he went up to each one in the Jets’ locker room before the team’s home opener against Miami in September and asked if he could stand with them in unity.
Johnson, the players and the coaches stood — arms locked — on the sideline before every remaining game. Several players pointed to the owner’s actions as playing a large role in establishing cohesiveness on a team that stuck together despite a 5-11 record.
But Johnson’s latest stance has become a polarizing issue with some Jets fans and even politicians saying the owner’s support of a player potentially protesting during the anthem is misguided.
“It’s great that he stuck his neck out there,” linebacker Darron Lee said, “because I know a lot of people feel passionate about that.”
New York Rep. Pete King wrote on Twitter on Saturday that it was “disgraceful” that Johnson would pay fines for players who would kneel during the anthem. King added that Johnson’s decision was “encouraging a movement premised on lies vs. police.”
“Would he support all player protests?” King continued. “Would he pay fines of players giving Nazi salutes or spew racism? It’s time to say goodbye to Jets!”
The Jets have not decided what they will do this year during the national anthem, but Lee said if he had to take “an educated guess,” he thinks the team will lock arms again. Beachum and Kearse stressed that unity is the top priority with the Jets.
“I think it’s very important that no matter what we do, that we do it together,” Kearse said. “We’re a locker room with different personalities, different thoughts, so not everybody thinks the same. Whatever we choose to do, if we can do it collectively, that would mean a lot more than individually.”
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)