Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made his first public comments about his team's national anthem protest, saying he had "never been prouder of my association with players and a coaching staff as I am with this crew."
"We all agreed that our players wanted to make a statement about unity and equality," Jones told the Dallas Morning News. "They were very much aware that that statement when made or when attempted to be made in and a part of in recognition of our flag can not only lead to criticism but also controversy. It was real easy for everybody to see the message of unity and equality was getting pushed aside or diminished by controversy. We even had the circumstances that it was being made into a controversy."
The Cowboys met at least three times to plan how they'd respond to Trump's comments, sources told the Morning News. "The club's leadership council, which includes more than a dozen prominent players, met Sunday night to discuss the possibilities before the entire team gathered to further talk over their options. The Jones family was also involved with the plans."
"It was a team thing," wide receiver Dez Bryant said. "That's the true definition of unity. Trump can't divide this."
The Cowboys found a way to show solidarity without disparaging the national anthem in their own form of demonstration. Every NFL team that played Sunday participated in some form of demonstration during the national anthem. The protests were sparked by Trump calling for NFL owners to fire players who decline to stand for the anthem in a rally in Alabama on Friday.
Some NFL players, coaches and executives Sunday stood arm-in-arm along the sideline. Some sat, knelt or raised a fist. The Pittsburgh Steelers didn't even come on the field during the anthem.
The Cowboys met multiple times over the last three days, sources said, to carefully consider their options. Plans began immediately after Saturday's practice in Frisco and didn't get finalized up until 15 minutes before kickoff. Ultimately, they chose the path of least resistance with millions of viewers tuned into their Monday Night Football game against Arizona.
Before Monday, no Cowboys player had publicly protested during the national anthem since Garrett became the coach midway through the 2010 season, wrote the News. Then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked the movement in August 2016 as he sat on the bench during the national anthem to protest police brutality.
"It's been an interesting 48 hours for everybody," Garrett said. "The objectives as much as anything else was to some how, some way to demonstrate unity and equality and do so without anyway involving the American Flag and the national anthem. It took a lot of conversation of how to do that.