NFL Ownership Position on Player Protests

Before the third preseason game of the 2016 NFL season, then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem. His protest set off a slow-building storm across the league that effectively ended Kaepernick’s career and brought politics into the middle of the sports arena. 

Two years later, there is no formal league-wide policy on how to handle anthem protests. In May, the NFL announced that it would fine teams if players sat or kneeled. Two months later, after it was revealed that Miami Dolphins players would be suspended for up to four games for protesting, the league put its policy on hold. 
Every team and owner has handled the protests in different ways. This list serves as a cursory look at each NFL owner and their policy on the anthem protests. Many owners policies have been separated into two parts. For many owners they have had two separate stances. After Trump initially tweeted about the anthem in week 3 of the 2017 season, the owners responses were mostly to side with their players. Now that the owners have met and had a season to reflect on what it means for the business, most owners are taking a side of neutrality or support for punishing players who kneel.


AFC East

Buffalo Bills

Co-Owners: Terry and Kim Pegula

At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston in February, Kim Pegula said of the players protesting “They came in on the player side, so a lot of them just didn’t understand or know the impact that it had on the business, on the organization, on our community, good or bad. I do think there’s definitely an impact.”  She later added  “I wouldn’t shy away from it at all, because I think there is a common ground and I think a lot of it is just more about communicating and learning from each other on both sides and coming to some type of compromise at some points. And sometimes, you won’t be able to come to a compromise, but something usually gets done when that happens.”

The Pegulas bought the team in 2014 after the death of founder and original owner Ralph Wilson. 


Miami Dolphins

Owner: Stephen Ross

Stephen Ross released this statement through twitter on July 20th. The tweet and statement came after a reference from a leaked club document suggested that players could be fined or suspended for protesting.

New England Patriots

Owner: Robert Kraft

Back in 2017, Kraft seemed to take the side of the players when he criticized the president’s tone in a statement from September 2017.

Still, Kraft voted in favor of the new anthem policy which comes with penalties for players who kneel. The month before, at a confidential meeting about the anthem protests, Kraft called the president’s policies horrible. “The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don’t feel is in the best interests of America,” said Kraft, in that meeting as reported by the New York Times. “It’s divisive and it’s horrible.”

New York Jets

Co-Owner: Woody Johnson and Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is the acting chairman and CEO of the New York Jets while his brother Woody serves out his term as the U.S. Ambassador to Britain. In a May interview with Newsday Johnson said, “If somebody [on the Jets] takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. “I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t. There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.”

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Owner: Steve Bisciotti

Back in September, Steve Bisciotti released this statement, “We recognize our players’ influence. We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent. All voices need to be heard. That’s democracy in its highest form.”

Cincinnati Bengals

Owner: Mike Brown

Pro Football Talk reported that former 49ers safety and free agent Eric Reid met with the Bengals and talked with Brown personally.  According to PFT, Brown “initiated discussion regarding the issue of kneeling” and “the conversation almost exclusively centered on the topic.” During the conversation Brown told Reid he planned to prohibit kneeling during the anthem.

Cleveland Browns

Co-Owners: Jimmy and Dee Haslam

The owners of the Browns have been in conversations but haven’t put a clear stance on the record. The most recent statement defers to the ongoing discussions happening between the NFL and NFLPA.

“The league and the players’ association are working to come up with a win-win solution and I think there’s cautious optimism on both sides that that will happen,” Jimmy Haslam said. “So, until that happens, I don’t think we have any comment.”

Pittsburgh Steelers

Owner: Art Rooney II

After the policy to penalize players was put in place the Washington Post reported that Rooney said, “Those who are not comfortable standing for the anthem have the right to stay off the field.  We’re not forcing anybody to stand who doesn’t feel that that’s within the way they feel about particular subjects. But those that are on the field are going to be asked to stand. We’ve listened to a lot of different viewpoints, including our fans, over the last year. I think this policy is meant to come out at a place where we’re respecting everybody’s point of view on this as best we could.”

He later told the Post that he believes there is a “common ground” to be found that he is pleased at the NFLPA is willing to talk with the owners about a policy.

AFC South

Houston Texans

Owner: Bob McNair

The New York Times reported that during the confidential NFL meeting to discuss the national anthem protests in April, McNair thought that the players should influence their colleagues to stop kneeling, saying “You fellas need to ask your compadres, fellas, stop that other business, let’s go out and do something that really produces positive results, and we’ll help you.”

McNair is also the owner who compared the players to prisoners saying “we can’t have inmates running the prison.”

Indianapolis Colts

Owner: Jim Irsay

Back when the anthem protest first began in 2016 Jim Irsay told USA Today’s Jarrett Bell, “I think it’s the wrong venue,” and that “It hasn’t been a positive thing. What we all have to be aware of as players, owners, PR people, equipment managers, is when the lights go on, we are entertainment. We are being paid to put on a show. There are other places to express yourself.”

In May, Irsay came out in favor of the league’s idea to fine players. 

Jacksonville Jaguars


Owner: Shad Khan

Jaguars owner Shad Khan released a statement to Adam Schefter last year when he said, “Our team and the National Football League reflects our nation, with diversity coming in many forms — race, faith, our views and our goals. We have a lot of work to do, and we can do it, but the comments by the President make it harder.” Khan released the statement below after the policy vote in May. 

Tennessee Titans:

Owner: Amy Adams Strunk

Strunk herself hasn’t personally offered a statement, but before the protest policy was put on hold, WKRN reported that head coach Mike Vrabel said that if Titans players decide to stay inside during the national anthem they have Strunk’s full support. He said, “I told them this morning they had the entire organization’s and Miss Amy’s support to make a decision when that time came.” 

No Titans player has taken a knee and the team has not addressed how it will respond should a player decide to protest on the field.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs

Owner: Clark Hunt

Last year, before a game with the Cowboys in November Clark Hunt said, “When it rolled around last year, it really wasn’t a big deal for us, and we’ve tried to stay with that this year. Obviously we’ve had some guys who have sat or knelt during some of the games this year, but we’ve continued to work with them and communicate with them that we prefer for them to stand. But at the end of the day, it’s their decision.”

With the NFLPA and NFL currently discussing the anthem policy, Hunt has taken a position of neutrality. “As you guys have probably read or seen elsewhere, the league and the players’ union are discussing that policy right now,” Hunt said in a press conference. “There’s really nothing to report on that. We’re not doing anything on it and until the league tells us what the policy is, there’s really nothing to talk about.”

Los Angeles Chargers

Owner: Dean Spanos

Despite standing and linking arms with players in Week 4 last season, Dean Spanos said, “I have the upmost respect for our players, and everybody has the right to express themselves the way they want to. I believe that all the players and everybody in our organization should stand for the anthem. I think the players know that. But if they elect not to? So be it.”

Oakland Raiders

Owner: Mark Davis

Last year when speaking with ESPN, Davis said, “About a year ago, before our Tennessee game, I met with Derek Carr and Khalil Mack to ask their permission to have Tommie Smith light the torch for my father before the game in Mexico City. I explained to them that I was asking their permission because I had previously told them that I would prefer that they not protest while in the Raiders uniform. And should they have something to say, once their uniform was off, I might go up there with them. Over the last year, though, the streets have gotten hot and there has been a lot of static in the air and recently, fuel has been added to the fire. I can no longer ask our team to not say something while they are in a Raider uniform. The only thing I can ask them to do is do it with class. Do it with pride. Not only do we have to tell people there is something wrong, we have to come up with answers. That’s the challenge in front of us as Americans and human beings.”

Denver Broncos

Owner: Pat Bowlen

Bowlen is the owner but gave up football operations in 2013 because of a battle with alzheimer’s disease. That means the anthem policy rests on team president Joe Ellis. The Broncos made headlines last season when nearly half the team kneeled before a game in Buffalo. After that game, the players held a team meeting where they agreed to be unified and the whole team stood for the rest of the season. 

Now, with the NFL taking a new stance, the Broncos aren’t concerned. Von Miller believes the team already confronted this issue last year. “We have an understanding as players on what needs to be done regarding the national anthem,” Miller told the Denver Post. “We were already done with that last year and we came together as a team. It’s a situation that we were already past. Any new policy the league imposes it really doesn’t affect us.”

Ellis has basically left it up to his players but released a statement the week prior, “We want all members of our organization to stand for the national anthem. At the same time, we need to listen to our players and support the issues and causes that matter to them.”

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

Owner: Jerry Jones

Jones has been quite outspoken about his stance on the national anthem protests.  Even after the NFL decided to freeze the national anthem policy, he said in a press conference, “Our policy is you stand during the anthem, toe on the line.” Jones also said that players would not be permitted to stay in the locker room during the anthem, and last year said that he would bench a player for an anthem protest.

New York Giants

Co-Owners: John Mara and Steve Tisch

The Giants have taken one of the most supportive stances of the protests when Tisch told the Hollywood Reporter that no Giants would be punished by the organization if they chose to protest during the national anthem.

Philadelphia Eagles

Co-Owners: Jeffrey Lurie

In May, Jeffrey Lurie released a statement saying, “I have always believed it is the responsibility of sports teams to be very proactive in our communities. In this great country of ours, there are so many people who are hurting and marginalized, which is why I am proud of our players for continuously working to influence positive change. Their words and actions have demonstrated not only that they have a great deal of respect for our country, but also that they are committed to finding productive ways to fight social injustice, poverty and other societal issues that are important to all of us. We must continue to work together in creative and dynamic ways to make our communities stronger and better with equal opportunities for all.”

Washington Redskins

Majority Owner: Daniel Snyder

Snyder stood locking arms with players last season, and a 2017 statement that was attributed to the team but not signed by Snyder, said: “Football has always served as the great unifier, bringing people together to celebrate the values of courage, commitment and achievement. We are proud of the players, coaches and fans of the Washington Redskins for all that they have done to improve the lives of others in neighborhoods all across our region. We are also grateful for the sacrifices made by the brave men and women of our armed forces that have provided us the freedom to play football. In that great tradition, the Washington Redskins will work to address divisions and bring unity, civility and respect to our greater community.”

NFC North

Chicago Bears

Principal Owner: Virginia Halas McCaskey

Bears chairman George McCaskey, according to the Chicago Tribune, told reporters after the NFL announced the anthem policy, “There is no easy answer to the anthem issue. No one is entirely right, nor entirely wrong. The policy change enacted a couple of weeks ago by NFL teams, including the Bears, isn’t perfect. But we think it will return the anthem to what it should be — a unifying force — while providing an option to those players and other team personnel who choose not to stand.”

He went on to say that he personally believes that players should stand during the anthem. 

Detroit Lions

Owner: Martha Firestone Ford

Last season, Ford stood and linked arms with protesting players. Later in the season it was reported by the Detroit Free Press that she asked her players not to kneel before a game with the Vikings.  In exchange for not kneeling, Ford told players she would donate money to causes they care about in the community.

Green Bay Packers

Owner: Stockholders

Chairman and CEO Mark Murphy, the only person who is not an owner to vote on the national anthem policy, explained to’s Tom Pelissero on twitter the thoughts behind the policy.

Minnesota Vikings

Owner: Zygi Wilf

Wilf, who stood and linked arms in support of the players last season, hasn’t made a statement in regards to how the team would deal with protests this season only saying, “Whatever we do, we’re going to do as a team.” Wilf supports the policy the NFL rolled out in May.  

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Owner: Arthur Blank

The Associated Press reported that Blank said the Falcons are “very committed to the military.” He also said he believes players have “very significant rights” and appeared to say he wouldn’t fine players for exercising those rights. Blank said players should be allowed to make their own decisions on what he described as the “complex issue” of standing or kneeling for the national anthem.

Carolina Panthers

Owner: David Tepper

Tepper, the NFL’s newest owner, hasn’t addressed the national anthem policy specifically, but during a press conference in July he said he wants to be committed to social justice, reciting the pledge of allegiance and zeroing in on its final six words—”with liberty and justice for all.” Those words, as he described the players’ protests, are the “most patriotic thing going.”

Tepper was introduced as the Panthers’ new owner in early July. 

New Orleans Saints

Owner: Gayle Benson

Benson recently took over ownership and operations of the Saints after her husband, Tom Benson, passed away in March.  She hasn’t publicly announced her stance regarding the anthem protests.  Tom Benson was against kneeling during the national anthem, and although no reports of him benching players were made last season, some players for the Saints sat on the bench during the national anthem.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Owner: Malcolm Glazer

In the middle of last season co-chairman Joel Glazer posted this statement to twitter.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals

Owner: Michael Bidwill’s Josh Weinfuss shared Bidwill’s stance in July: “I think it’s important to speak up. People are saying stick to sports? You know what? We ask our players 20 days a year—game days—to restrict their statements. The rest of the days, we want our players to get engaged in the community. Just like I am and other owners are. In fact, I’m working with [an NFL] committee called the Social Justice Committee, where we’re working with players across the league to get them more involved in changing policy and making America a better place for everyone.”

Los Angeles Rams

Owner: Stan Kroenke

Kroenke released this statement last season addressing the anthem protest, “The Los Angeles Rams, our fan base and our city are all comprised of people from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. When we recognize that this diversity is our strength and seek to understand different perspectives, we are more enlightened and empathetic human beings. Our organization is committed to celebrating diversity, inclusion and respect, values that help define Los Angeles. We are proud of the work that our players and all NFL players do to make our communities better places to live. We believe in the tenets of the national anthem, which is a pillar of this country; just as freedom of speech is another pillar and a constitutional right. We will continue to support our players’ freedom to peacefully express themselves and the  meaningful efforts they make to bring about positive change in our country.”

San Francisco 49ers

Owner: John Edward York

York was the only owner to abstain from voting on the NFL’s anthem policy. KRON4 was able to question him on the subject.

Seattle Seahawks

Owner: Paul Allen

Allen released this statement on behalf of the Seahawks regarding the anthem protest.