Robert Kraft to BBC: Patriots players had choice with national anthem

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a BBC interview that he let his players decide how to handle the national anthem while stating his personal belief that it is important to “respect our flag and our anthem.”

Kraft’s remarks, which were included in a BBC piece on free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick this week, are in contrast to those of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. After the Cowboys’ loss to the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 8, Jones said emphatically that his players will stand for the national anthem and show respect to the flag. If they don't, he said, the player or players will not play.

“If there’s anything that is disrespectful to the flag, then we will not play,” Jones said. “Understand? We will not ... if we are disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period.”

Jones and Kraft are two of the NFL’s most influential owners.

Prior to the Patriots’ 36-33 victory over the Houston Texans on Sept. 24, the team had 17 players kneel during the national anthem. After discussions over the ensuing days, players said they decided to all do the same thing: stand with their right hand over their chest, with their left hand on the shoulder pad of the player next to them.

In the BBC interview that centered around Kaepernick, Kraft said, “The greatest enemy in sport is division from within. I personally feel it’s very important to respect our flag and our anthem. But I also respect the right of people in this country to make statements or protests, peacefully, in a way that’s appropriate to them.

"I think there were some comments made about what our young men were doing that were a little inflammatory and inappropriate, and I thought I had to speak out. I spoke to the team, and I told them that they were free to do what they thought was correct as long; I try to bring unity and bring things together, and part of that is respecting how other people think. Even if it’s genuine, even if it’s different than the way I speak; the way you build team and you build success is to let people be themselves. I have never heard anyone talk about blocking [Kaepernick] or excluding him.”

Asked if it’s possible Kaepernick will be on a team at some point, Kraft said, “I would think that’s a possibility.”