Patriots owner Robert Kraft, in an interview with the BBC, said Patriots players were given a choice to stand or not for the national anthem, criticized "inflammatory comments" made about players who demonstrated, but said his personal belief that it is important to “respect our flag and our anthem.”
Kraft's comments were included in a lengthy BBC piece about former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the anthem controversy in the NFL. Kraft's comments contrasted to those of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who warned that if his players don't stand for the anthem, they will not play.
Before New England's Sept. 24 game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium, 17 Patriots took a knee during the anthem. The following week Kraft said he spoke with the team and players decided that before the Oct. 1 home game against the Carolina Panthers, they would all stand with their right hand over their chest, with their left hand on the shoulder of the player next to them.
“The greatest enemy in sport is division from within. I personally feel it’s very important to respect our flag and our anthem," Kraft said in the BBC story. "But I also respect the right of people in this country to make statements or protests, peacefully, in a way that’s appropriate to them. I think there were some comments made about what our young men were doing that were a little inflammatory and inappropriate, and I thought I had to speak out. I spoke to the team and I told them that they were free to do what they thought was correct as long; I try to bring unity and bring things together, and part of that is respecting how other people think. Even if it’s genuine, even if it’s different than the way I speak; the way you build team and you build success is to let people be themselves."
"I have never heard anyone talk about blocking [Kaepernick] or excluding him” from the NFL, Kraft said, and when asked if the former 49ers QB would rejoin the league at some point, Kraft said, “I would think that’s a possibility.”