Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy believes there will be an ‘uproar’ if the NFL institutes a new policy denying players’ right to peacefully protest during the national anthem.
‘I don’t think guys are going to like it,’ McCoy told ESPN Wednesday. ‘I think it’s going to be an uproar if that is to happen because you’re basically taking away a constitutional right to freedom of speech. If guys want to have a, I guess you would call it a peaceful protest, I don’t think it’s right to take that away from guys.’
NFL players have been protesting police brutality against minorities by sitting, kneeling or raising a first during the national anthem since last season. On Tuesday, facing intense criticism from fans and President Donald Trump, commissioner Roger Goodell penned a memo to all 32 teams, sharing his belief ‘that everyone should stand for the National Anthem.’
Goodell went on to write that the league needs to ‘move past’ the controversy surrounding player protests, adding that the issue will be addressed when the owners meet in New York next week.
On Wednesday, Trump claimed victory by praising Goodell for encouraging players to ‘honor our flag and our country’ during the national anthem.
‘It is about time that Roger Goodell of the NFL is finally demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem-RESPECT OUR COUNTRY,’ Trump tweeted.
The league has since issued a statement emphasizing that the issue is still being discussed and that standing during the anthem is still not mandatory.
‘Commentary this morning about the Commissioner’s position on the Anthem is not accurate,’ read the league’s statement. ‘As we said yesterday, there will be a discussion of these issues at the owners meeting next week.
‘The NFL is doing the hard work of trying to move from protest to progress, working to bring people together,’ the statement continued. ‘Commissioner Goodell spent yesterday with Miami Dolphins players, law enforcement and community leaders witnessing first-hand the outstanding work our players and clubs are doing to strengthen their communities. Players from around the league will be in New York next week to meet with owners to continue our work together.’
But if the NFL does decide to make it compulsory for players to stand during the national anthem, McCoy sees that as a problem.
‘I had two teammates who did it, in [wide receivers] Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. That’s their right to do that,’ McCoy said, referring to Buccaneers’ two most outspoken protesters. ‘And if they’re gonna do it, they’re gonna have support of the whole team.
‘[I]t’s a constitutional right that we have,’ McCoy continued, ‘and if you take that away, I don’t think people are gonna take too kindly to it.’
The 29-year-old McCoy is among the most respected players in the league and a five-time Pro Bowl selection.
Some teams have already taken steps to ensure their players stand for the anthem.
After previously kneeling alongside his players in Week 3, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recently announced he would bench any player who refused to stand for the national anthem.
Jones’s comment came in response to a question about Vice President Mike Pence, who left a game in Indianapolis on Sunday after about a dozen San Francisco players knelt during the Star-Spangled Banner.
‘I know this, we cannot…in the NFL in any way give the implication that we tolerate disrespecting the flag,’ Jones said after a 35-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
‘We know that there is a serious debate in this country about those issues, 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,’ he continued.
Trump was initially critical when Jones and the Cowboys took a knee in Week 3, but the two have since talked, and Jones credited the President with alerting him to the NFL’s existing policy on the subject.
In an interview with ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, Jones said ‘You know who reminded me about the game ops policy? Donald Trump.’
Miami Dolphins were required to stand before Sunday’s game, although three remained in the locker room rather than doing so.
Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins told the local NBC affiliate on Monday that he would not stop raising his first in protest during the national anthem even if team owner Jeffrey Lurie requested him to do so.
‘I would still do it,’ Jenkins told NBC Sports Philadelphia. ‘I mean, I’ve been that committed to it because that decision is not mine. I made the decision a year ago that I was going to use my platform in a way to create positive change both on the field and off the field and having someone tell me I couldn’t do that simply because, you know, a president or your bottom line is getting ready to be affected, that wouldn’t deter me.’