Most owners have not come out and said that they support players who choose to kneel during the national anthem. Bills co-owner Kim Pegula has.
“Personally, I’m not going to kneel,” Pegula said Friday on One Bills Live, via Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News. “But we’ve been listening. We’ve been learning to love other people and understand experiences and what they have gone through, what they’ve experienced, and what maybe the anthem or the flag means to them, it’s truly different than what I went through.
“Honestly, that’s how I feel. I will be standing, but that’s my choice. That’s my right. I would hope that the players as well respect that, just like I’m going to respect them for what they want to do if they so choose to.”
She said that the current position from Bills ownership is no different than it was at the height of the anthem controversy, in 2017.
“Obviously, this was a tough topic three years ago, still, and we haven’t really moved beyond the space,” Kim Pegula said. “I think last time, last time three years ago, we said, ‘We do. We support our players. We support their right for them to peacefully protest.’ Now it’s come upon us again.”
She also explained that she has a reason for standing, and that her decision to stand isn’t to show that she opposes kneeling.
“I think and I would hope that our players or anybody would understand that if I’m standing, that does not mean I am … for racism,” Kim Pegula said. “Certainly, it’s not. And the same goes for our players. If they choose to kneel, or whoever wants to protest, I don’t think it’s because they don’t love the country or they don’t respect our military or any of that.”
Kim Pegula realizes that, this time, things seem different — and that more people are learning about and understanding the historical experiences of blacks in America.
“In some ways we’ve come a long ways, in other ways it’s been very slow,” she said. “I think if you talk to the black community, they would say, ‘Listen, it’s been hundreds of years and we’re still in this place.’ This time around, people are listening more. Whether it’s deliberate or whether it’s just a part of where we are in our world, we’re listening more and our hearts and our ears are a little bit more open than maybe they were three years ago.”
She’s right, and it’s right for team owners to make sure players understand that they have their support in whatever they decide to do. The message from ownership can’t be that kneeling will be tolerated or permitted or grudgingly accepted. Owners need to say to their teams that a conscious decision regarding conduct during the anthem is encouraged, and that there will be no repercussions based on whatever decision each player makes.