A presumably cranky Jerry Jones, likely upset about another Cowboys’ loss, recently announced that he will bench any player “disrespecting” the flag. Finally, after many years of believing the man was wholly unprincipled, we see that Jones is in fact capable of drawing the line.
To be sure, felony charges, beating women, and threatening murder didn’t quite get him there. But taking a knee to stand against oppression and police brutality? Unacceptable.
When Greg Hardy was released by the Carolina Panthers after assaulting and threatening to kill his then-girlfriend, Jones waited less than ten days after Hardy became available to sign him to a deal worth just over $13M. Despite the appalling pictures that revealed just how much damage Hardy had done to his then-girlfriend surfacing, Jones was willing to keep him on.
And if not condoning domestic violence is not high enough on Jones’ priority list, fine (I guess). But if Jones is such a patriot, why’d he keep Greg Hardy on when—less than fifty days after signing him, and before he ever even practiced with the team—he joked on Twitter about the Twin Towers getting “blown up”? Surely being so cavalier about an attack carried out on America, which resulted in a loss of almost 3,000 lives, is more traitorous than kneeling in hopes of shining a light on some of this country’s inherent flaws.
Yet, Hardy remained with the team. And in just his second game back from a four-game suspension (imposed by the league, of course, not the Cowboys), Hardy snapped—shoving teammates on the sideline, getting into a heated exchange with an injured Dez Bryant, and smacking a clipboard out of a coach’s hands before shoving him in front of the team.
But Jones defended Hardy as “passionate,” calling him a “real leader.” During that defense, Jones said that “my view is totally through the eyes of within the team, what the team thinks. What they think of each other, how hard are they willing to support each other when you do get in [these] competitive times.”
These are competitive times indeed. So when Jones was told that Damontre Moore and David Irving raised their fists following the national anthem, one would expect Jones to rave about their passion and leadership, and to defer to “what the team thinks.” Instead, Jones concluded that “it’s in the best interests of the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL and the players . . . to honor the flag.” But according to whom? And who is Jones to decide what’s in each individual player’s best interest?
Jones has made it clear that he believes (assumes) any player of his who protests would be doing so solely due to peer pressure. Yet, when explaining why the team chose to take a knee before the anthem two weeks ago, Jones said that “we all agreed that we wanted to make a statement about unity and . . . equality.” If everyone agreed they wanted to make such a statement, how can Jones assume that everyone is now disinterested in using their voice to stand up for a core American conviction—that every citizen has the right to equal protection of the laws?
Finally, after hearing about Moore’s and Irving’s gesture, Jones went on a rant about how he will not tolerate any disrespect of the flag, and that “if it comes between looking non-supportive of our players and of each other or creating the impression that you’re disrespecting the flag, we will be non-supportive of each other.”
It is fundamentally inconsistent for Jones to view his trouble-ridden defensive end’s temper tantrum “through the eyes of . . . how willing [the players] are to support each other,” while at the same time declaring that the team will be “non-supportive of each other” if they choose to “disrespect” the flag.
In a country where the First Amendment protects our right to burn the American flag, lie about receiving the Medal of Honor, and not be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, it’s striking that Jones decides to draw the line at peaceful—and silent—protest. After all, a core function of the First Amendment is to invite discourse.
In truth, the First Amendment does not legally apply here. This is because the First Amendment exists to guard against abuse of government power, and Jones is not a state actor.
Yet, in all reality, Jones is acting on behalf of, or at least in coordination with, the government to limit speech. He’s noted—and the president has acknowledged—that he has spoken to President Trump about the protests and that the president has made it clear that he wants these players to stand. In fact, Jones admitted that it was Trump who reminded him of the NFL policy that players must stand during the anthem.
In any event, even if the First Amendment does not legally apply here, it most certainly exists in spirit.
Indeed, by suppressing his players’ ability to take a stand—or a knee—Jones finds himself directly inhibiting what many have referred to as this country’s most important foundational freedom. Principally, Jones is saying that his players can exercise their right to freedom of speech whenever they want—just so long as they don’t do it when it matters most/when everyone is watching. And while I understand Jones’ impulse to want to prohibit something he finds personally offensive, “[t]he hallmark of the protection of free speech is to allow ‘free trade in ideas’—even ideas that the overwhelming majority of people might find distasteful or discomforting.”
In Texas v. Johnson, Johnson, protesting alongside several dozen others, lit the American flag on fire. The protesters then chanted, “America the red, white, and blue, we spit on you.” The Supreme Court—including conservative hero Antonin Scalia—said this was constitutional. The Court stated that suppressing speech for the purpose of preserving the flag as a symbol of national unity was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s core purpose: tolerating the expression of unpopular ideas that may be offensive or disagreeable to others.
By dictating which ideas the Cowboys will and will not support, Jones reduces his players to not people but entertainment. He also finds himself at odds with the spirit of a right that lies at the heart of a well-functioning democratic society.
As Justice Louis Brandeis once noted (quoting Zechariah Chafee), “You really believe in freedom of speech, if you are willing to allow it to men whose opinions seem to you wrong or even dangerous.” Maybe Jerry Jones needs to have a little more faith in, and commitment to, the core liberties of this Nation he claims to love so much.
 Jones later admitted that this policy has been in effect since last season.
 Jones even acknowledged the seriousness of the issue, saying that “we know that there is a serious debate in this country about [unity and equality], but there is no question in my mind that the . . . Dallas Cowboys are going to stand up for the flag.”
 This is to say nothing of the irony of Jones thinking that this would be his players disrespecting the flag, which many say amounts to disrespecting our troops, while being advised on the matter by a man who straight up disrespected Senator John McCain (and, implicitly, every American POW) by saying he’s only thought of as a war hero “because he was captured; I like people who weren’t captured.”
 Trump, of course, was wrong. Jones remarked that “those who don’t want to enforce [the rules]” point to the word “should” as a way of saying it’s not required. He then asked, “But how can it be ambiguous when it cites the potential penalties of fines, suspension or loss of draft picks for failing to adhere?” But the manual says that “all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem,” but that those players “should stand at attention and face the flag.” And the “potential penalties” Jones refers to? They state that “[f]ailure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline,” while making no mention whatsoever of failure to stand for the flag.
 Political speech, which is exactly what this protest is, happens to be the most protected form of speech.
 Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616, 630 (1919) (Holmes, J., dissenting).