DALLAS — Now that Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys has become the first NFL owner with a public suggestion of repercussions for displays during the national anthem, players are opening up more about the delicate balance of team chemistry and politics in the locker room.
And they're not necessarily slamming the powerful and outspoken Jones for suggesting his players will be benched if they disrespect the flag.
"He's the owner. Either you listen or you don't," Washington Redskins tight end Vernon Davis said Monday. "And if you don't listen, then you won't play. It's all up to each and every individual."
Jones was responding Sunday night to questions about Vice President Mike Pence's decision to leave an Indianapolis home game in protest of about a dozen San Francisco players who kneeled during the anthem. President Donald Trump tweeted after Pence's walkout he had told his vice president to leave if any players kneeled.
On Monday night, Trump also tweeted his support for Jones.
"A big salute to Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who will BENCH players who disrespect our Flag," the president tweeted. "'Stand for Anthem or sit for game!'"
Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the movement early last season when he sat on the bench, and later kneeled, during the anthem to protest racial inequality and police mistreatment of black males. He remains unsigned and wants to resume his career.
The 74-year-old Jones, also the team's general manager, said after a loss Sunday to Green Bay the NFL cannot leave the impression it tolerates players disrespecting the flag and said any Cowboys doing so will not play.
They were the most provocative comments so far from Jones, a powerful behind-the-scenes force in the NFL and recent Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee who had already been clear in his support of standing for the anthem.
The NFL players' union had a swift rebuke Monday. Executive director DeMaurice Smith said Jones contradicted assurances last week from commissioner Roger Goodell and New York Giants president John Mara players could express themselves without reprisals.
"I look forward to the day when everyone in management can unite and truly embrace and articulate what the flag stands for, liberty and justice for all, instead of some of them just talking about standing," Smith said. "We look forward to continuing our talks with them on this very issue."
Many of the NFL's 32 teams have held meetings in various forms to discuss the issue since Trump said more than two weeks ago during a rally in Alabama owners should fire players who kneel for the anthem.
In some cases, teams have struggled with their responses.
After Trump's criticism, the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to stay off the field before the anthem. But Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva, an offensive lineman, stood at the edge of a tunnel with his teammates in darkness behind him during the anthem two weeks ago.
Villanueva said he was not making a political statement or defying his teammates, calling it a misunderstanding that was "very embarrassing on my end."