Ray Lewis, center, is flanked by the Ravens’ Mike Wallace, left, and C.J. Mosley during the national anthem before Sunday’s game against the Jaguars in London. Baltimore lost, 44-7. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

Despite Ray Lewis’s assertion that he was praying, not protesting, when he got down on his knees Sunday on the Ravens’ sideline during the national anthem, some fans are outraged at what they see as his act of disrespect.

That negative reaction has caused state officials to bolster security near the former linebacker’s statue, which stands just outside the team’s stadium in Baltimore, while a petition calling for its removal has garnered thousands of signatures online.

(Gail Burton/Associated Press)

“Certainly observers can notice the presence of uniformed security officers at M&T Bank Stadium, which includes the statue plaza,” a spokeswoman for the Maryland Stadium Authority said Wednesday (via the Baltimore Sun). “The additional officers and other security enhancements have been in place since Sunday afternoon.”

President Trump’s comments at a rally Friday that NFL players who protest should be “fired,” which included using the phrase “son of a bitch,” sparked widespread demonstrations by players at games over the weekend. Before a game in London against the Jaguars, several Ravens took a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and Lewis joined them, although he would subsequently emphasize that it was significant he got down on both knees.

A fan in Maryland, Eric Moniodis, then set up a petition at Change.org in which he wrote, “I want the Ray Lewis statue at Ravens Stadium removed because of his refusal to stand during the national anthem. That song honors our country and our veterans who fought for it. To kneel during it is disrespectful, regardless of what you are protesting.

“I will not stand for that kind of disrespect towards our country, especially from a legend such as Ray Lewis. You stand for the national anthem as a salute to those who can’t stand because they fought for this land.”

As of this writing, over 43,000 supporters had signed the petition. “I mainly created this because I want the Ravens to understand how badly this hurts to our moral core,” Moniodis told Baltimore’s Fox 45 on Wednesday.

“You hear people saying, ‘Oh, he took a knee.’ I absolutely did not take a knee,” Lewis said Tuesday on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL.” He added, “I’m watching young kids just confused. Everybody confused. Nobody don’t know what they’re talking about. What I’m going to do if I’m going to stand up? If I’m going to grab hands? If I’m going to interlock [arms]? What am I going to do? So I walked away … and I didn’t drop on one knee and order the protest … I dropped on two knees.”

“He could say he was praying — that’s perfectly fine,” Moniodis told the station. “But to me, it doesn’t matter. I would have done the same thing if Tim Tebow had kneeled during the national anthem.”

Lewis’s statue was installed in Sept. 2014, and it depicts his well-known dance during player introductions before games. The linebacker retired after the 2013 Super Bowl, in which he helped the Ravens win their second championship during his tenure.

Since retiring, Lewis became a football analyst for ESPN and Fox Sports, and he has appeared to take conflicting positions on the anthem protests, which began last year with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In August, Lewis advised Kaepernick, who has been unable to latch on with a team since becoming a free agent in March, to focus less on issues of racial injustice and more on reviving his football career.

On Showtime on Tuesday, Lewis noted that he had “First Amendment rights,” then suggested that, for its anthem ceremonies, the NFL should “make it only two ways: you can either stand or pray.” He reiterated that he would “never” take one knee, saying, “I do too much with the military, I do too much for cops, I do too much meeting with high-level officials, trying to fix the problems in these neighborhoods.”

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