Cowboys, Cardinals lock arms for national anthem in show of unity

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals displayed unity before their game Monday night in an expression of displeasure with comments made by President Donald Trump on Friday .

As the Cardinals were introduced, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, and executive vice presidents Stephen Jones, Charlotte Anderson and Jerry Jones Jr., stood locked arm in arm with Dallas' players, coaches and staff.

Before a giant American flag was unfurled that covered almost the entire field, the Cowboys -- including Jerry Jones -- took a knee briefly as a group. This took place before the national anthem, and led to a smattering of boos from the crowd in Arizona that included a large number of Dallas fans.

But during the national anthem, the Cowboys stood locked arm in arm, and no one took a knee or appeared to show any sign of silent protest.

The Cardinals lined up along the goal line of the southern end zone as Jordin Sparks sang the national anthem behind them. Some players linked arms. Some put their hands on the shoulders of teammates. Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker and tight end Ifeanyi Momah kept their helmets on.

Among the players, coaches and staff who lined up was Cardinals president Michael Bidwill, who locked arms with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and cornerback Patrick Peterson. Fitzgerald locked arms with coach Bruce Arians on the other side. Bidwill's sister, Nicole, and brother, Tim, as well as general manager Steve Keim were also standing with the players.

"I made my mind up on this issue," Jerry Jones said after the Cowboys' 28-17 win, "that I wasn't going to comment other than I am very proud of the fact that the Dallas Cowboys and our players have always stood for the flag and the recognition for the flag always. What is important is to figure out that to show the kind of respect and the perception of respect. How can [the team] in front of a national audience show unity and a statement of equality. [The team] wanted to do that. It evolved throughout the organization, particularly over the last two days, and it was executed.

"I can't say enough about the understanding and the awareness of our team and these young men, if you will, that basically said, 'You know, that makes sense.' There's no need for us to talk about unity and equality and have 60 percent of this country mad at you because you're not being perceived as honoring the flag. And this was a way to do both."

Trump tweeted his reaction to the Cowboys' actions Tuesday morning.

Arians said the decision to lock arms before the anthem was a decision made by the players.

"We had one meeting about it and it was their decision," Arians said.

Arians said he was moving forward from the demonstrations.

"That's all over with. I coach football. I'm not a politician," Arians said.

Every NFL team that took the field Sunday had some form of demonstration in response to Trump saying owners should fire the players who disrespect the flag by not standing during the national anthem. Hundreds of players, coaches, executives and owners stood together arm in arm, sat, knelt, raised a fist or stayed in the locker room during the national anthem.

Leading up to Monday's game, there was much internal debate in the Cowboys and Cardinals organizations, and even between the two teams.

Peterson told ESPN's Lisa Salters that when he woke up on Saturday morning and heard about Trump's comments, he and another teammate went to Arians and asked if players could do something in response before Monday night's game.

That started a series of conversations with the Cowboys -- including Fitzgerald reaching out to Dallas tight end Jason Witten -- to discuss a possible joint show of unity. Those conversations continued throughout the day Monday, but ultimately the decision was made that there would be no joint team response.

Witten said he had a smile on his face Monday night because he was proud to be a part of the Cowboys "and the men that make this team what it is."

"I am going to stand for the national anthem with my hand over my heart until the day I die," Witten said. "I respect our country and the servicemen that represent our flag. One nation under God with liberty and justice for all. I believe in that. I also can respect and agree to disagree, and that is what the locker room is all about. There are a lot of different ways. That is what is special about this locker room, a lot of different opinions and a lot of different thoughts on it.

"It's important to take the high road and you show unity and you look to create a better good," Witten said. "I think our team tried to do that tonight. I am proud of my teammates and our entire organization."

Peterson, asked after the game if he thinks the Cardinals will continue to stand together as a team during the anthem, said he wasn't sure.

"That we don't know," Peterson said. "That we don't know."

Jerry Jones and his daughter, Charlotte, said Cowboys players wanted to take a knee as a statement for equality and unity, but also wanted to separate that message from the national anthem.

As Arians entered University of Phoenix Stadium on Monday, he wore a handwritten note of support around his neck that read, "Love!! Not Hate!!"

A little less than an hour before kickoff, Jerry Jones said he respected the players "individually and collectively," but did not want to get into the political element of the debate.

The final decision on what the Cowboys would do in protest was finalized only 20 minutes before kickoff.

Jones was in the locker room with the players beforehand, but it's not clear whether he addressed the team.

The Cowboys wanted to strike a balance between addressing the needs of the players who wanted to have some form of protest, while acknowledging those who wanted to stand for the anthem.

In the past, Jones has said he liked how the Cowboys handled the national anthem. Since the silent protests started a year ago -- with Colin Kaepernick drawing the most attention -- the entire Cowboys roster has stood in a row along the sideline.

Jones was one of seven NFL owners to donate to Trump's inaugural committee. So far, the Cowboys have not released a statement on Jones' behalf regarding Trump's recent stance, but the NFL, the NFL Players Association and a number of teams and executives issued statements calling Trump's comments "divisive."

"We want them to do what's in the best interest of the Dallas Cowboys," Jones said. "That's where the obligation is, and again I don't want to get into this area of debate, but I do want to emphasize how important it is to me that we respect the sanctity of the flag."