A dozen Cleveland Browns players staged the largest national anthem protest yet in the NFL and were joined for the first time by a white player as they took a knee in what one athlete said was a prayer “for the world in general” before their preseason game Monday night.
“There’s a lot of racial and social injustices in the world that are going on right now,” rookie safety Jabrill Peppers said (via ESPN) after the Browns beat the New York Giants. “We just decided to take a knee and pray for the people who have been affected and just pray for the world in general.”
Last season, no white players were among those who emulated Colin Kaepernick’s example by participating in anthem protests, but three had already done so before games this month. However, those three players — the Eagles’ Chris Long, the Seahawks’ Justin Britt and the Raiders’ Derek Carr — stood while showing support for black teammates, whereas tight end Seth DeValve was among the many Cleveland players taking a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Besides DeValve, ESPN reported that other Browns included running backs Duke Johnson Jr. and Terrence Magee, safeties Peppers and Calvin Pryor, cornerback Jamar Taylor, receivers Kenny Britt and Ricardo Louis, linebackers Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins, and running backs Isaiah Crowell and Brandon Wilds (who were not in uniform). Five other Browns, including quarterback DeShone Kizer, offensive linemen Shon Coleman and Marcus Martin, defensive back Jason McCourty and a second white player, punter Britton Colquitt, placed their hands on the kneeling players’ shoulders.
If the Browns’ protest resembled the kind of prayer circles often formed by athletes after sports events, it wasn’t by accident, as DeValve confirmed. “We wanted to draw attention to the fact that there’s things in this country that still need to change, and I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me,” DeValve, whose wife is African American, told reporters, “and I want to do my part as well, to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now.
“So I wanted to take the opportunity with my teammates, during the anthem, to pray for our country, and also to draw attention to the fact that we have work to do.”
DeValve, a second-year player out of Princeton who grew close to his future wife, Erica, through the school’s campus ministry, added that as an NFL player, he had a “responsibility” to use his “platform.” Kirksey told reporters, “If anyone was wondering what was going in that circle, we were saying a prayer. … We respect everything that’s happened with people in the military, we respect all of that. We just felt that it was the right time to do that, to say a prayer for this country.”
Browns Coach Hue Jackson said he stood by whatever message his players decided to send, as long as they were peaceful and he was given advance notice. That’s in keeping with a message the Seattle Seahawks sent when players linked arms before the regular-season opener last year.
“We respect our players; we respect the flag,” Jackson said Monday night. “Those guys came to me and talked to me about it before they ever made a decision to do it.”
DeValve’s comments echoed those made by Michael Bennett, a Seahawks defensive end who began sitting on the bench during anthems this season and has spoken at length about his motivations. The son of a military veteran, Bennett has emphasized that his protests are not about disrespecting soldiers or anyone else, but about “pushing for liberty and equality for everybody.”
Last week, Bennett said, “It would take a white player to really get things changed, because when somebody from the other side understands and they step up and they speak up about it, it would change the whole conversation. Because you bring somebody who doesn’t really have to be a part of the conversation, making himself vulnerable in front of it, I think when that happens, things will really take a big jump.”
A day later, Long put his arm around Philadelphia teammate Malcolm Jenkins, who has been raising his fist during renditions of the anthem since last season. “I’ve heard a lot of people say you need white athletes to get involved in the anthem protests,” Long said. “I’ve said before I’ll never kneel for an anthem, because the flag means something different for everybody in this country, but I support my peers.
“And if you don’t see why you need allies for people that are fighting for equality right now, I don’t think you’ll ever see it. So my thing is, Malcolm is a leader, and I’m here to show support as a white athlete.”
On Friday, Bennett again sat during the anthem before a Seattle preseason game, and this time he was joined by Britt, who stood next to his teammate at the bench and put his arm on Bennett’s shoulder. “I wanted to support him,” Britt said. “I want to support what he’s standing for and his beliefs.”
“I’m not foolish, I’m from Missouri, I get things are different in that area than in some other areas,” Britt continued. “I’m not against what the flag means and veterans — my dad was in the Army — so I’m not putting any disrespect to them. I’m just trying to understand the issues, trying to educate myself more in that regard, and show support.”
After Carr stood with Oakland teammate Khalil Mack and put his arm around the latter, he said, “We wanted to show them that it’s okay for a white kid and a black kid that come from two different neighborhoods [to] grow up and love one another and be best friends, and that’s what me and Khalil are. We’re best friends and we love one another.”