EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the first time since the Colin Kaepernick controversy started a year ago, the New York Jets -- owned by a Donald Trump appointee -- made a political statement.
In an emotional team meeting Saturday night, the Jets decided to protest the president's recent anti-NFL remarks by standing with their arms locked during the national anthem Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
They were joined by acting owner Christopher Johnson, who spoke to individual players before the game. Johnson said he "asked them if it would be OK if I joined them. They, to a man, said yes. I was incredibly honored.”
Unlike many other teams, the Jets didn't issue a statement condemning Trump's comments from Friday night. The team owner is Woody Johnson, a Trump-nominated U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. At least one politico didn't like the organization's stance. New York City comptroller Scott M. Stringer, who describes himself as a lifelong Jets fan, released a statement before the game, ripping the Jets for their silence.
Eventually, the Jets issued a statement during their 20-6 win over the Miami Dolphins. It quoted Christopher Johnson, who recently took control of the team from his older brother. He took the high road, avoiding criticism of Trump. In a brief postgame interview, Johnson said he was "disappointed" by Trump's controversial remarks, but he deferred to commissioner Roger Goodell's statement from Saturday.
Coach Todd Bowles acknowledged that Trump's comments "bothered" some of his players. He addressed it at the top of his meeting with them on Saturday night.
“Yes, we had a long talk," Bowles said. "We had a big talk. It bothered some guys, and we had a long talk about it. Everybody aired their differences, and we talked about it and we came out as a team today, united.”
Cornerback Morris Claiborne said "emotions were high" in the meeting. "You have different guys who feel different ways about that. It’s a touchy subject. You have people who feel different ways about it, and you try not to step on anybody’s toes. I felt like we handled it a good way as a team.”
Defensive end Leonard Williams said, "It needed to be addressed. You have to when stuff like that is going on. It’s bigger than just football, and we had to do it. We stayed together.”
After the win, the Jets stayed positive, praising Johnson for joining them and taking subtle shots at Trump. This was a delicate balance for the players because they know who signs their checks.
"I look at his comments as just a distraction, trying to distract where we’re headed as a country," wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said of Trump. "I think people are starting to understand what's going on in this country. You just have to stay away from the distractions and look at the main issues. As a team, we’re going to continue to be unified in this. We’re going to fight the good fight together.”
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins said of Trump, "People should focus on the issues, not what someone says. There are issues. I understand he said something ... but there are actual issues that need to be addressed that affect people’s lives, not just a tweet. I don’t care about the tweets. I don’t think anyone should actually care about the tweets. ... It’s sad that everyone is focused on a tweet and not on the issues that affect people on a daily basis on both sides.”
Johnson said he's open to a locked-arm approach to the anthem in future games, but that it would have to discussed with the team. On this day, the Jets made two statements -- on and off the field.
"We wanted to send a message to the leaders in our community," linebacker Demario Davis. "In the face of adversity, we just can’t stand back and be silent. We wanted to send a message of unity."