Browns' Hue Jackson supports players' right to protest

Hue Jackson's comments earlier this week on NFL player protests during the national anthem were not meant to discourage anyone from making a statement, the Cleveland Browns coach said Thursday.

Asked about criticism he received after making the remarks, Jackson reached in his pocket and pulled out a printed sheet, saying "I came prepared," before reading from the lengthy statement.

"I've been carrying this for about two days," he said. "I knew if this question came I wanted to make sure I said it right because I don't want to be misquoted ever again in any way, shape or form. So let me go through it."

Jackson then read the statement:

"I'd like to share a couple of thoughts on my recent post-practice comments when I was asked about how I'd feel about the Browns players protesting during the national anthem.

"First off, our players know that I have great appreciation for every single one of them. I respect and support their right for peaceful protest, a right afforded to every American. We've always made it clear to our players that they should embrace the platform they have as an NFL player to improve our community and use their platform in a positive, thoughtful, respectful manner.

"Our team along with every other team in the NFL and every other sport at every level should reflect what is good about America -- our diversity, our race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, as well as equal opportunity.

"There are issues in our country right now that are far bigger than football, and I understand that. I respect that as well. The issues do impact our players and will compel them to react in many different ways.

"My personal feelings (are) that over the last season we have seen players come under unfair scrutiny for protesting during the anthem, mainly because the focus has become on whether or not a player is being disrespectful to the flag or military and not on the issue and cause attempting to be addressed by the protest.

"The intent of my comments was not to discourage individual expression from our players in light of a cause that moves them to personal expression. I'm disheartened that I gave anyone that impression because I did not speak with enough clarity. However, my words did reflect my concern that I would express to any player about protesting during the anthem.

"There are many effective ways athletes can utilize their platform if they so desire. But I would respect any individual decision as hopefully it would be the player's choice after much thoughtful dialogue.

"As an American, I am (of) the belief that our unique strength (is) in the diversity of our nation. As an NFL head coach I strive to have this same belief reflected in how I lead and value every player on our football team as well as every individual within our organization. My actions will continue to mirror those beliefs both personally and professionally in a manner that serves to better people in this country."

Earlier in the day, John Wooten of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which advocates minority hiring, told The Athletic that Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe's comments about Jackson earlier this week on FS1 were unfair to the coach.

"My coach Paul Brown said it best in the early years: 'We have no black Browns, we have no white Browns. Everyone on this team is a Cleveland Brown and if anyone has an issue with that, let us know and we will get you on your way,'" Wooten told The Athletic. "That's the point I think Hue was making.

"We are having a heckuva problem in this country in 2017. Players black and white have to live in their community, and they should have a concern with what's going on in it. They should care."

When Jackson concluded his statement, he said he would not comment on anyone who criticized him because everyone is entitled to their opinion.

"That being said, like I said, I think some things were kind of taken the wrong way," Jackson said. "But at the same time I get it, everybody has an opinion. But my players know how I feel and how I react and how I respond to what they're trying to accomplish."

Cornerback Joe Haden said he thought Jackson's comments were misunderstood.

"He's not saying he doesn't want to do it, he just doesn't want to be surprised at a game," Haden said.

These were Jackson's remarks earlier in the week:

"I think everybody has a right to do, and I get it, but the national anthem means a lot to myself personally, the organization and our football team. I hope -- again I can't speak, I haven't really talked to our team about it -- I would hope that we don't have those issues. I understand there is a lot going on in the world. I like to just keep it here.

"What we deal with, we try to deal with as a team in our closed environment. We talk about things. Hopefully, that won't happen. I can't tell you it won't happen, but I just know our guys, and I don't think that is where our focus is. We hope the things that are going on in the world get ironed out, but I know right now we are doing everything we can to get our football team better."