New York Jets CEO and co-owner, Christopher Johnson, has pledged to pay the fines of any player who defies the NFL’s new rule against kneeling during the national anthem. According to Newsday, Johnson decision is rooted in defense of the players’ right to free speech and protest.
“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules. If somebody [on the Jets] takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest,” he said. “There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t.”
The NFL imposed the penalty for kneeling during the national anthem on Wednesday
As Newsday reports, league owners collectively agreed to allow players who don’t want to stand during the anthem to remain in the locker room while the Star Spangled Banner is playing. But if the players are on the field at that time, they have to stand. If they don’t, their team will be financially penalized. The teams also have the power to impose fines on the players who take a knee.
But Johnson has also decried the move to force players to stay in their locker rooms if they want to protest during the anthem.
“I know there’s some discussion of keeping players off the field until after the anthem,” he said during an owner’s meeting in March. “I think that’s a particularly bad idea… I just think that trying to forcibly get the players to shut up is a fantastically bad idea.”
What makes Johnson’s stance even more interesting is that his brother is a Trump ambassador. As The Hill reports, his older brother Woody Johnson is currently an ambassador to the United Kingdom. According to The Hill, Woody is a “longtime donor” to the Republican party and donated $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee.
Last year, after President Trump called on NFL owners to fire players who did not stand during the national anthem, Christopher Johnson linked arms with the players on his team in a show of solidarity against the comments. Newsday reports that he also collaborated with former Jets player, Demario Davis, to advocate for social justice issues and criminal justice reform.
Johnson added that the owners’ new policy on the NFL’s new rule against kneeling is a lot less onerous than the initial plan he saw last week.
“I seriously struggled with this,” he said, “In the end, I felt I had to support it from a membership standpoint.”