OWINGS MILLS, Md. — John Harbaugh’s statement on the NFL’s new national anthem policy posted Thursday afternoon was a textbook case of fence-straddling. However, when asked about his thoughts after the Ravens’ OTA session, the coach sounded like he had a better grasp of the nuances of the players’ protests than the owners did — not to mention certain national politicians.
Harbaugh chose not to refer all questions about the anthem policy to his statement. He said focusing solely on his team and its performance was “what I’m thinking about as a coach, that’s what I want to be involved with.”
Then, he continued:
“As far as anybody’s — all of our — rights to express ourselves, and have our opinion, and make this country better and better and better, in every single way, we need to be doing that. And people have different ways of doing that. Who am I to tell someone how to do it? If we do it in a way that’s respectful of one another, that’s what we should be doing.
“That’s where we get into the conversation about what’s respectful and what’s not. I’m not really sitting in judgment of that. I don’t have that judgment seat. That’s not where I sit.’’
STEELE: Anthem policy a solution to a problem that didn’t exist
It was a more definitive stance than the one he took in his five-sentence statement, issued just before the Ravens took the field at their practice facility:
“I believe in standing for the flag. To me, the flag represents the ideas and the ideals that make us America. I also believe in the freedoms the flag represents and that people can speak for themselves. I know this: Our players respect the flag and what it represents. And, we’re all proud at the Ravens of the work they do to make this community and country better.”
His thoughts about what defines “respectful,” who defines it and how, refers directly to the NFL’s position that players “show respect for the flag and the Anthem,’’ or else penalties will be imposed on the team or players. The league policy makes no mention, as Harbaugh did, of players “having different ways” to exercise their rights.
The Ravens were as entangled in the player-protest issue as any NFL team last year. Their handling of the possibility of signing Colin Kaepernick during training camp was handled awkwardly, to put it kindly. They kneeled during the national anthem before their game in London after President Trump profanely criticized protesting players. They were booed when they kneeled before their game in Baltimore the next week.
On Thursday morning, Trump reacted to the new NFL policy by saying of players who protest, “You shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.’’ Harbaugh’s response: “I don’t pay any attention to that stuff, I’ve got too many things to do, to worry about.’’
How the Ravens, players, coaches and management address this before games begin in August, Harbaugh said, is “something that’s gonna be an organizational decision. That starts with (owner) Steve Bisciotti, (president) Dick Cass, (vice president (Ozzie Newsome) and I. And I’m sure we’ll talk to our players about it, probably most importantly, and try to do what’s right by our organization and by our fans — make sure our fans are on board with what we’re doing. So to me it’s a group thing. We’re all in this thing together.’’
Notably, however, Harbaugh is the only one of the aforementioned Ravens executives to publicly comment on the new policy so far.
MORE: What NFL team owners are saying about anthem policy
The players, meanwhile, were so in it together that the four players who spoke at the podium after practice — Joe Flacco, Brandon Williams, Matthew Judon and Marlon Humphrey — stuck to a theme of just concentrating on football. Humphrey, the second-year cornerback, was the most expressive.
“I respect our soldiers and everything, they fought for this country and everything, but to put in a whole policy for it seems like it’s blowing it out of proportion,’’ he said, adding, “but the owners are the owners, the president is the president, so they always have the right of way.’’
Asked if it bothered him that the league never involved the players in crafting and imposing the policy, Humphrey said, drawing laughter, “If I was the boss, I really wouldn’t care what my co-workers really think. That’s me personally. They’re our boss, so what they say goes.’’
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