ARLINGTON, Texas - Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the NFL can't leave the impression that it tolerates players disrespecting the flag and that any of his Cowboys making such displays won't play.
Jones had his strongest comments so far on the anthem controversy Sunday night. They started with his response to a question about Vice President Mike Pence leaving the game in Indianapolis after about a dozen San Francisco players knelt during the anthem.
"I know this, we cannot ... in the NFL in any way give the implication that we tolerate disrespecting the flag," Jones, also the team's general manager, said after a 35-31 loss to Green Bay.
"We know that there is a serious debate in this country about those issues,” he said. “But there is no question in my mind that the National Football League and the Dallas Cowboys are going to stand up for the flag. So we're clear."
The Cowboys knelt arm-in-arm before the national anthem when they played at Arizona two weeks ago, days after President Donald Trump criticized NFL players for anthem protests.
Dallas players, coaches and others, including Jones and his family, were among those in the line in Arizona. All of them stood during the anthem, with arms still locked.
Other than that, Dallas players have stood on the sideline, many with hands over their hearts, during the anthem ever since former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling last season in protest of what he believed were instances of police brutality in the U.S.
Jones said he wasn't aware of whether any of his players had raised a fist at the end of the anthem before the Green Bay game.
"I don't know about that," said Jones, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. "But if there's anything that is disrespectful to the flag, then we will not play. OK? Understand? If we are disrespecting the flag, then we won't play. Period."
Jones said showing respect for the flag and the anthem is more important to him than any potential issues of team unity.
"There is no room here if it comes between looking non-supportive of our players and of each other or creating the impression that you're disrespecting the flag, we will be non-supportive of each other," Jones said. "We will not disrespect the flag."
Quentin Brogdon is a Dallas attorney with no connection to the Cowboys or the anthem dispute. He believes Jones is well within his legal rights to not allow players to play if they kneel.
“The first amendment prevents the government from restricting free speech, but not private employees and private individuals as a general rule,” Brogdon said. “He didn’t say he was firing the players who sat, so I think that gives him a little leeway there.”
Head Coach Jason Garrett says he has not talked to the owner about sitting players, but did speak to two players who raised fists after the anthem was over.
“I think the players you are referring to are Damontre’ Moore and David Irving,” Garrett said. “I had a conversation with both of them today. And they did that well after the anthem was completed. It was a private thing they did for themselves."
Garrett says "absolutely not" when asked if the players will be disciplined.
“I believe our team believes in the approach we take in regards to the anthem and showing respect for the flag and the national anthem prior to the game,” he said.
Jones said a phone conversation with Trump after the display in Arizona included Trump telling him there was a rule on the books.
The NFL has said the game operations manual distributed to teams includes a reference to players standing for the anthem, but that it's a policy and not a rule. The league has said it doesn't plan to punish players over anthem protests.
"The league in mind should absolutely take the rules we've got on the books and make sure that we do not give the perception that we're disrespecting the flag," Jones said.
Going forward with that collective bargaining agreement when it's renegotiated between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, there's going to be something very specific about whether the players have to stand and under what circumstances they don't,” Brogdon said.