The Falcons and Saints may be longtime divisional rivals who played against each other Monday night, but before the game, the two teams put on a remarkable display of unity. After the national anthem, players from both sides walked out to midfield and joined hands while forming a circle.

Citing a source, ESPN’s Britt McHenry reported that the idea came from New Orleans Coach Sean Payton, who ran it past Atlanta Coach Dan Quinn after which their players embraced the idea.

The context for the display can be found in the protests during the national anthem begun by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, versions of which have been adopted by other football players and athletes in other sports. In addition, the recent shootings of black men by police officers in Charlotte and Tulsa, coming after previous, high-profile incidents, compelled players to seek ways to show their concern.

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According to ESPN, the Saints and Falcons wanted to make their own statement about injustice in this country while emphasizing the need for unity. On Friday, Saints running back Mark Ingram said (via The Advocate), “We’ll probably come up with something before Sunday.”

“We just want everybody to be on the same page, and we want it to be unity,” Ingram continued. “We want it to be all, everybody, because that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to bring everybody together. Our nation needs to come together. Everybody needs to care for each other, and that’s what’s so good about sports: It brings everybody together, no matter what race.”

Ingram also said that he supported Kaepernick and other athletes who have knelt or raised fists during renditions of the anthem. Last week, while reacting to the death of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, he tweeted, “My heart hurts for our country.”

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https://twitter.com/MarkIngram22/status/778589100349591552

“If I do something, I want it to be the entire team,” Ingram added. “We’re trying to bring unity, anyway. We want everybody to be together, and don’t want to do anything that causes division or controversy, so I support them and everything they stand for 100 percent. But with my team, I want us to do something that we all can be a part of.”

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