PHOENIX (Reuters) – Two National Football League teams largely steered clear of a controversy over national anthem protests that have ensnared U.S. President Donald Trump and threatened to damage the game’s popularity, staging a “moment of unity” on Monday instead.
The entire Dallas Cowboys team, including owner Jerry Jones, linked arms and knelt on the playing field for a moment before the game, but then stood respectfully as the “Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by singer Jordin Sparks.
“We all agreed that our players wanted to make a statement about unity and make a statement about equality,” Jones said after his team beat the Arizona Cardinals 28-17.
Jones has previously expressed pride that no players on his team had taken to one knee as the anthem was played and said he was disappointed to see such protests.
Cardinals players joined arms as a giant flag was unfurled on the field but did not kneel.
“Prior to the National Anthem, the @DallasCowboys and @AZCardinals shared a moment of unity on the field,” the NFL said in a Twitter post that was retweeted by the Cowboys.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stirred a polarizing national debate in 2016 after refusing to stand during pre-game renditions of the “Star Spangled Banner” to protest against police violence against African-Americans.
Kaepernick was not signed by an NFL team this season but several players have made similar gestures.
Trump kicked off his battle with the largest-grossing U.S. professional sports league at a rally on Friday, when he said any protesting player was a “son of a bitch” who should be “fired.”Those remarks touched off protests by dozens of NFL players, coaches and even some owners at games on Sunday, along with criticism from many corners of the sports world.
“The childishness, the gratuitous fear-mongering and race baiting has become so consistent that we almost expect it, the bar has been lowered so far,” Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team, told reporters.
The head of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) spoke out in support of the protesters at NFL games.
“The athletes you see protesting are protesting because they love their country,” USOC Chief Executive Scott Blackmun told reporters in Park City, Utah.
The International Olympic Committee’s charter prohibits “demonstrations of political, religious or racial propaganda” at Olympic venues.
Not all players…