NFL turns down Cowboys' wish to sport decals in support of Dallas police

The National Football League will not allow players to wear helmet decals to honor the memory of five Dallas officers fatally shot in July, following similar controversies over basketball players' wish to express views on police violence. 

Tom Fox/AP
Dallas Police Chief David Brown (c.) walks arm-in-arm with (from l.) Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones; strong safety Barry Church (42); cornerback Orlando Scandrick (32); tight end Jason Witten (82); Magnus Ahrens, 8, son of slain Dallas officer Lorne Ahrens); his aunt Erika Swyryn; and tight end James Hanna (84) before opening day of NFL football training camp in Oxnard, Calif., on July 30.

The National Football League turned down a request on Wednesday from the Dallas Cowboys, who had hoped to wear helmets with decals honoring the five police officers from Dallas who were killed last month during all of the team's regular and preseason games.

The decal, which featured a five-pointed star with the words "Arm in Arm," would constitute a breach of the NFL's regulations, the League said. 

“There are so many wonderful, wonderful causes, the league has to be careful,” said Stephen Jones, the team’s executive vice-president, according to The Dallas Morning News. “If you allow one, then what do you do about every team that has a great reason to have something on their helmets? There are tons of things out there that need to be recognized. Once you open that Pandora’s box, how do you ever stop?”

The team is allowed to wear the decals during training season, however. On July 30, the first day of training, the team paid tribute to the Dallas police officers by inviting their families and children, as well as current Dallas Police Chief David Brown, onto the field for a ceremony.

"This moment here is overwhelming," Mr. Brown said in a brief news conference after the ceremony before the team's first full practice. "Our profession – and I've repeated this – hasn't seen a lot of support from communities because of some of the problems we see in communities with police relationships. So support like this really is priceless."

The decal decision is not the only time in recent months that athletes' wish to express their political and social views on the field has sparked debate. 

In July, the Women's National Basketball Association initially fined the New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury, and Indiana Fever teams for wearing warm-up T-shirts with the phrase “I can’t breathe,” an attempt to raise awareness for racially motivated police shootings. The same fines were not issued, however, when National Basketball Association players wore the same T-shirts after the death of Eric Garner, who died after police put him in a chokehold in July 2014.

"We are proud of WNBA players' engagement and passionate advocacy for nonviolent solutions to difficult social issues but expect them to comply with the league's uniform guidelines," WNBA President Lisa Borders said in a statement the league provided the Associated Press. 

Originally, each team was fined $5,000, and each player fined $500, but the WNBA eventually dropped the fines. The Association will use the next few weeks, during a break for the Olympic Games in Rio, to determine how to balance regulations with players' views, Ms. Borders said in a statement.

Even some players usually quiet on political topics have begun to speak up, as The Christian Science Monitor reported last month, when Michael Jordan made an uncharacteristic statement on recent events:

When Michael Jordan broke a nearly lifelong silence on social issues this week, his statement illuminated, at least in part, the depth and complexity of Americans’ views on the issue.

In saying he 'can no longer stay silent,' Mr. Jordan called for America to find a constructive path forward in addressing both the need for police reforms and the need to support and respect police officers. He backed the effort with a donation of $1 million each for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Institute for Community-Police Relations.

In Dallas, after the Cowboys' initial ceremony to honor officers' families, they released a statement to explain the gesture.

"Our players felt that there is no better example of what unity is – and can be about – than a sports team," the team said. "And they felt they had the opportunity – for the first time they were together this year – to send this very important message."

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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