Dontari Poe made difficult choice to kneel alone
The Cowboys tackle took a stance with the support of his teammates
Dontari Poe did not stand.
Dak Prescott. Ezekiel Elliott. Amari Cooper. DeMarcus Lawrence.
They’re the Dallas Cowboys’ most visible players – and they each
stood for the national anthem Sunday night before they played the Los Angeles Rams.
So did 43 of their teammates.
Poe, who signed a two-year, $9 million deal in the offseason, is the first Cowboys player to take a knee, protesting social injustice and police brutality, since it became a league issue in 2016.
The defensive tackle is expected to do it again Sunday at AT&T Stadium against the Atlanta Falcons.
It’s a scene Cowboys owner Jerry Jones may soon have to accept because NFL players have finally figured out their talent equals power. Jones won’t cut an important player because he knelt during the anthem, which he once declared.
Being the first, however, always requires the most courage. Poe was alone, but he was not by himself.
Defensive backs Chidobe Awuzie, Donovan Wilson, Xavier Woods and Trevon Diggs linked arms during the anthem.
Poe knelt, his right knee on the ground and his head bowed, during the anthem. Linebacker Aldon Smith placed a hand on Poe’s right shoulder and defensive tackle Antwaun Woods stood behind him with a hand on his left shoulder.
Poe did what he felt compelled to do. Others must follow their convictions.
Fear can’t guide their choices.
The fight for social justice is too important. Too many have died senselessly. Too many like those police officers who killed Breonna Taylor remain free.
“I had already told teammates and coaches that I was going to do it,” Poe said after the game. “My teammates were telling me that they didn’t want me to do it by myself alone because we’re a team.”
Poe continued, “but I had told them my mind was already made up, and I felt this way. And if they didn’t, don’t do it. Don’t do it unless your heart is there like mine was. I appreciate my guys for sticking with me for being behind me.”
Poe grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, which played an important role in the civil rights movement whether you’re discussing the 1968 sanitation strike or the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
Poe lived in Whitehaven, a neighborhood where the median income is $37,714, unemployment sits at 39% and 40% of residents come from single-parent households, according to zipcodes.org.
“It’s just bringing more awareness to what’s going on in this world — to the racial injustices that’s going on, to the oppression that’s happening to my race, the Black people,” Poe said. “It’s not something that’s going to be solved in a day.
“This is letting people know and this is my way of fighting it. It’s the beginning of it. We might not see change in my lifetime. I do want to start it by doing the simple things such as kneeling to let people know that I feel this way.
“I feel hurt with what’s going on. I feel like everyone needs to be accountable. The police need to be held accountable. And the world needs to hold them accountable. That’s basically it and that’s how I feel about it.”
Poe is a nine-year veteran who’s earned $44 million in his career, including the $3.25 million he’s scheduled to earn this season.
He was never going to be swayed by Jones’ thoughts on the subject. Social media’s vitriol wasn’t going to affect him either. Neither was his teammates’ desire to make a collective statement.
He has made enough money to live comfortably after football, and his career is far closer to the end than the beginning. Any trepidation concerning what kneeling would mean for his career or endorsement opportunities — real or imagined — has no effect on him.
Sometimes, you must kneel alone.
And Jones understands the world has changed since training camp in 2018, when he said players who don’t stand for the national anthem won’t play for the Cowboys.
At the time, Jones linked kneeling for the anthem with disrespecting the flag. These days, there is a broader understanding of the purpose.
Those who choose to continue to believe kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful, simply don’t want to educate themselves, preferring ignorance to personal growth.
Jones seems to understand the action is a peaceful way to bring attention to our country’s issues, even if he would prefer a different approach.
“I want our players to understand the perception of where they’re coming from regarding [the American] flag and the sensitivity there and the many memories there,” Jones said recently on his radio show on KRLD-FM 105.3. “I want our fans to understand where our players are coming from.”
You’re either on the side of ending social injustice and police brutality or you’re not. No compromise exists.
And if that upsets the sponsors who have helped make the Cowboys the most valuable franchise in sports, then too bad.
It’s why Poe will continue to kneel.