Once again, the 49ers and Cowboys find themselves in opposition. The long-time rivals will meet Sunday at Levi’s, but before they do, their respective owners sat on contrasting sides of the protest debate.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ strident comments about wanting every NFL player to stand for the national anthem are opposite from 49ers CEO Jed York, who believes players have an individual right to stand, kneel or sit for the anthem.
Jones’ stance was so adamant he wasn’t even invited to a joint players’ and owners’ meeting on Tuesday in New York. The man who started the protest, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, was also not invited. Kaepernick believes that he remains unsigned partially because owners agreed not to offer him a deal. Kaepernick recently filed a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement charging the owners with collusion.
Conversely Jones has repeatedly said that he has been “disappointed” with players protesting the national anthem and for “disrespecting” the flag. Kaepernick and current 49ers safety Eric Reid would likely respond that they have been disappointed with police violence and have felt disrespected about the lack of opportunities in communities of color.
York, while growing up in the economically ravaged town of Youngstown, Ohio, witnessed the devastation wrecked in this former steel town, particularly in communities of color.
“I understand why Colin takes a knee,” York said in August. “I personally wouldn’t take a knee for different reasons, but I completely respect what he did and I understand why he did it. And for people to not understand what the overall meaning is behind it, that’s where I think we can help message that.”
The 49ers organization have set up flag football games between police and at-risk youth from disadvantaged communities at the team’s practice facility. York also started an extensive educational program when Levi’s was first built, where at-risk kids take field trips to Levi’s to learn about science technology engineering and math (STEM).
York hopes other owners will also start efforts for children who don’t receive needed educational resources. His grand vision is to build teams of kids who can compete with each other in educational showdowns just like a football game. He hopes kids sponsored by different teams would square off against each other. For example, kids from East Palo Alto, representing the 49ers, would take on kids from Compton, sponsored by the Rams.
York said some owners are intrigued, but that others are reluctant. York hopes the success of his educational program will draw league-wide attention.
So, not surprisingly, York has come out in favor of players exercising their right to protest and he made that known on Monday in New York in a meeting between players and owners.
“He has had the most experience with players protesting since we were the first team to do it,” said Reid. “I really appreciated the role he played in that meeting.”
Earlier this season, York said he supported Reid and other players who have chosen to protest. All this adds extra meaning to a regular season game against teams with losing records. It pits a owner willing to accept his players’ individual rights, against a owner who doesn’t.
And will undoubtedly add a unique chapter in already storied rivalry.