The NFL instituted a controversial new policy regarding its players and their right to kneel during the playing of the national anthem last month, and a prominent civil rights group is calling on Patriots owner Robert Kraft to help his players out.
The New England chapter of the NAACP is asking Kraft to pay the fines of any Patriots player if and when they kneel during the playing of the national anthem prior to games this season.
Under the NFL's new policy, players have the right to remain in the locker room during the playing of the anthem. However, if they choose to be on the sideline for it, they are required to stand. Teams who have player(s) kneel during the anthem will be fined by the NFL, while each team will have the authority to establish their own rules to discipline players.
"...You, along with the 31 other team owners voted to support the un-American policy of the NFL...intended to muzzle players who exercise their First Amendment right of free speech," the statement from the NAACP reads.
Christopher Johnson, owner of the New York Jets, announced that he would pay the fines for his players if they choose to kneel during the anthem this season. San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York abstained from the league's vote on the issue; it was on his team's sideline that the kneeling movement began, when now-former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick remained on the bench during the playing of the anthem prior to a preseason game in 2016.
Devin McCourty, set to begin his ninth season with the Patriots, called the new anthem policy "dumb" last month.
"I just don't think that was the right way to try to lay the hammer down," McCourty told MassLive. "The NFL is a group where you have owners and players, but it can work together, you know what I mean? We'll see how that works out, plays itself out."
Seventeen members of the Patriots took a knee during the anthem prior to their Week 3 game vs. the Houston Texans last season. They knelt in the aftermath of President Donald Trump's comments a few days prior that players who kneel during the anthem should be fired. It was the only game during the 2017 season in which any member of the Patriots took a knee.