Jerry Jones should listen to his players and allow free speech

Jerry Jones should listen to his players and allow free speech
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The NFL preseason begins this week but the heated national anthem debate taking place throughout the league and the nation rages on. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recently inflamed the debate further by announcing that his players would not have the option of staying in the locker room, as the currently suspended NFL policy being negotiated by the league and players union allowed, but must be on the field and standing “toe on the line” when the “Star Spangled Banner” is played.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump watching 'very closely' as Portland braces for dueling protests WaPo calls Trump admin 'another threat' to endangered species Are Democrats turning Trump-like? MORE entered the debate when he tweeted, “Way to go Jerry. This is what the league should do!” But the league has reportedly instructed Jones to stop speaking about the issue. That is good because what Jones should really do is speak less and listen more to his players and what a joint statement from the league and the union described as the “very serious social justice issues” underlying their protests. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, we should freely express our views and bravely listen to opposing views with an open mind.

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The initial seated protest of Colin Kaepernick in 2016 troubled Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret and football player, who wrote an open letter about it. Boyer humbly acknowledged that for him to say he can relate to racial bias experienced by Kaepernick is “as ignorant as someone who’s never been in a combat zone telling me they understand what it’s like to go to war.” Kaepernick read the letter, and in a model of civil engagement, he invited Boyer to discuss the issue.

The two men listened to each other, learned from each other, and came to the compromise that Kaepernick would take a knee instead of sitting. Boyer explained that soldiers kneel at the graves of fallen soldiers “to show respect.” After that fruitful exchange, Boyer tweeted, “Good talk. Let’s just keep moving forward. This is what America should be all about.” This is indeed what our nation should be about, especially because the concerns of the players badly need to be addressed.

In an ethics class discussion of the shooting of an unarmed black man by a police officer that I facilitated a few years ago, a black student athlete from a tough neighborhood suggested that when whites see the police in their neighborhoods they feel safer while blacks, and especially young black men, feel they are about to be hassled or worse. There is plenty of research that shows they sadly have abundant reasons to feel that way.

Pew Research Center reported early this year that the imprisonment rate for blacks is more than five times higher than the imprisonment rate for whites. Black people are more likely to be arrested for drugs even though they do not use or sell them more, partly because their neighborhoods are more heavily policed. A Guardian study in 2015 showed that young black men were five times more likely to be killed by the police than white Americans. Reasons for these statistics include subconscious racial bias and stereotypes associating blacks with danger.

Black people are less likely than white people to experience the American dream of upward mobility and more likely to experience downward mobility. A recent study found that more than 10 white Americans born into the bottom fifth of income distribution make it to the top fifth while only 2.5 percent of black children do. This means whites are four times more likely than blacks to move from rags to riches in America.

It should trouble anyone who embraces the American ideals of equality and justice for all that “driving while black” and “shopping while black” are a thing, and that black parents need to have “the talk” with their sons to prevent them from being killed in police encounters. It should trouble anyone who believes in the American dream that black Americans do not have the same opportunities to move up as white Americans.

I love the American flag, but I love the ideals that it symbolizes and that make America great even more. Those ideals are not being met for many black Americans. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott stated that the controversy anthem protests bring to a stadium “takes away from the joy and the love that football brings a lot of people.” That may be true, but he must know a little less joy and love in a game should matter far less than a lot less justice and equality in the daily lives for many black Americans who have suffered too much for too long with no end in sight.

Joseph Holt teaches negotiations and ethics as an associate professor at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame.