Mac Engel: Dallas Cowboys' Dontari Poe on taking a knee: 'This is the beginning of my fight.'

©Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News/TNS

FRISCO, Texas — The first man from the Dallas Cowboys to take a knee knows it may be unpopular, and he doesn’t care.

Defensive tackle Dontari Poe said Wednesday he has spoken to team owner Jerry Jones, and he has the full support of the team and his teammates every time he takes a knee during the playing of the national anthem.

Poe has been the only member of the Dallas Cowboys to kneel during the national anthem, and on Wednesday he addressed the media for the first time since the season began.

“It’s because I felt like America, in the whole, wasn’t doing the right thing to people of my color,” Poe said. “I feel like racial injustices are unfair and us as a country can do more. There is a lot more to be done. There is a lot more that I will do. This is the beginning of my fight.

“I want people to understand where I am coming from and how I was feeling.”

Years ago, when former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick started this movement, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told members of the team that they would “create the perception of honoring the flag” by standing.

Basically, Cowboys players were told kneeling was a no-no.

In the last several months, however, with players from across the sports landscape creating momentum to all but force all leagues not only to permit — but endorse — such peaceful protests. Ultimately, both Jerry and the NFL relented and Cowboys players could take a knee during the anthem.

Three weeks ago, there was thought that multiple Cowboys would take a knee during the season opener in Los Angeles, however, Poe was the only one to do it. And he remains the lone Cowboy do so.

“I talked to Jerry and hope in the future we have more talks because it was all good,” Poe said. “It was all positive from both ends. It’s a lot of stuff we can still just talk about as men, him and his life experiences are a lot different from mine.”

I asked Poe if it’s lonely as the only member of the team to be on a knee when the rest are standing. He said no.

When he takes a knee, teammates on either stand put a hand on his shoulder.

“My teammates have told me they behind me. If they choose (to kneel), I’m behind them,” he said. “If they don’t, respect is given both ways. If their hearts aren’t in it to do it, that it doesn’t mean anything different. The fight is the fight.”

The fight, for Poe, remains what he feels is unequal treatment to Americans of color by law enforcement.

The fight is not against the American flag. Poe reiterated that kneeling during the anthem has nothing to do with the military.

“It’s been explained a lot of times. Honestly, I think some people don’t want to hear the truth,” he said. “It’s nothing against armed forces. Nothing against the military. I’ve had uncles in the military. My girlfriend was in the Air Force. I asked them both if this is disrespectful in any way, and both of them told me no.

“So that’s how I went forward with what I’m doing now.”

Poe is not screaming all cops are bad, or to defund the police.

“I have no problem with policemen if they are doing the right thing,” he said. “It’s not all policemen. Terribly, for us, it’s some. … It’s police and policemen that are doing the wrong thing and committing crimes and pretty much getting bailed out because they wear a badge.

“They should be protecting us as people no matter what color, race, creed. If you commit a crime, you gotta be punished. I feel like it’s being taken advantage of in some sense against Black people and I feel like it’s unfair. No one should be judged, or punished, because of the color of their skin. It’s just wrong.”

Poe has a foundation — Poe Man’s Dream — that “aims to give under-served middle school and high school students opportunities to succeed by providing them with resources for personal development and tools for success.”

He has made efforts to connect with the community where he is from, Memphis, and in other NFL cities where he has played, Kansas City, Charlotte and Atlanta. He said he wants to do the same in DFW.

He said he was at a gas station recently, and while there he struck up a conversation with a pair of police officers from Dallas.

They all talked, candidly, and Poe said the officers were receptive to meet with members of the team to try to explain, and talk through, some of these problems.

“I want to pick their brains a little but just about what’s going on in the neighborhood they are in, and the reactions they get from certain people and how they act towards certain demographics,” he said.

This is Dontari Poe, and this is the way he chooses to fight this fight.

He just happens to be a Dallas Cowboy.

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