USATSI

Two years after helping the NFL forge a national anthem policy that would have penalized players for kneeling to protest injustice, New York Giants owner John Mara has pledged to stand behind any players who choose to take a knee in 2020. In the wake of a public push from both players and teams to combat issues like systemic racism and police brutality, Mara told reporters he’s embraced the right of players — Giants included — to use the anthem as a platform for advocacy.

“I’ll say the same thing to the players that I said to the group in 2017: My preference is that everybody stand, but if you decide in your conscience that you think taking a knee is the right thing to do, I’m gonna support your right to do that,” Mara said, per the New York Daily News. “Because I believe in the First Amendment, and I believe in the right of people, especially players, to take a knee in silent protest if that’s what they want to do.”

As the Daily News noted, Mara wasn’t nearly as supportive of the possibility years ago, suggesting mass protests circa 2017 had “become such a divisive issue that I think it’s important that we … (have) a policy that everybody can respect and adhere to.” Since then, however, countless NFL executives — namely commissioner Roger Goodell — have reversed course and championed the kind of protests started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick back in 2016.

“I understand the fact and accept the fact that that’s not gonna be necessarily popular with certain segments of our fan base,” Mara continued, “but I think that’s the right thing to do.”

Mara added that it’s easier for him to support potential protests because of what players are also “doing in the community,” not to mention what’s happening around the country.

“I will tell you this: One of the most memorable team meetings I’ve ever been involved with I guess took place right after the George Floyd murder,” Mara said. “I listened to the players talk about their own experiences growing up, dealing with law enforcement. And to see the raw emotion that came out of them — I mean, guys got very very emotional talking about it — it was something that really was an eye-opener for me. And then to see how they’ve reacted since then, all the work they’ve put in their communities and local communities here is really gratifying and makes it easier to want to support them.”

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