*BALTIMORE – The NAACP, the nation’s foremost advocacy and civil rights organization, issued the following statement today regarding the White House’s position on, and the growing, divisive sentiment toward some professional athletes exercising their right of free speech:

Despite the recent memo from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that player should stand for the Star-Spangled Banner, the NAACP stands in complete solidarity with professional athletes exercising their right to demonstrate in whatever unified, dignified manner they see fit before major sporting contests, most notably choosing to kneel during the ritual singing of the National Anthem before games begin. African American athletes—and all U.S. athletes—have the same inalienable rights that all American citizens enjoy—the rights that so many throughout our history have sacrificed for. Most basic among these is the right to free speech and peaceful expression.

“The very idea that Jerry Jones, a highly respected team owner in the National Football League, would publicly declare that players on his team, the Dallas Cowboys, who do not stand for the singing of the anthem would not be permitted to take the field completely negates the issue that these individuals are hoping to illuminate via their public platforms: Wholly disproportionate incidences of police brutality and racial injustice towards people of color,” said Derrick Johnson, NAACP interim president and CEO. “Secondly, the fact that the White House has actually gotten behind Jones’ assertion, and has encouraged the League to enact a rule mandating symbolic allegiance is unconscionable and, basically, un-American. We’re calling upon players’ associations across America’s leagues and sports to stand in defiance of any such proposed rule change.”

“It’s a saddening sentiment,” said Tony Covington, former NFL player and senior director of Corporate Affairs with the NAACP “for the league to assume that player’s daily lives are not affected by incidents of injustice impacting the communities they come from.”

“Players can be powerful role models for positive social change if properly educated on issues of social justice. There are models of what’s possible, as both the NBA and WNBA both have come out in support of unified player demonstrations that respect their player’s voices, rights and beliefs,” Covington continued. “The NAACP is hopeful that we can ally ourselves with the NFL and its players to ensure that in ‘the land of the free, and the home of the brave,’ all individuals’ rights and freedoms continue to be safeguarded.”

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. You can read more about the NAACP’s work and our six “Game Changer” issue areas by visiting NAACP.org.

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