The San Francisco 49ers, the last team Colin Kaepernick played for, provided the most striking demonstration. The 49ers lined up in two rows of 30, with the front row kneeling and the second standing behind it and all players holding a hand over their hearts. Because the 49ers’ previous game was Sept. 22, they had not observed a national anthem since Trump’s comments at an Alabama political rally and subsequent tweets.
“For more than a year, members of our team have protested the oppression and social injustices still present in our society,” the 49ers said in an unsigned statement. “While some may not have taken a knee or raised a fist, we have all shared the desire to influence positive change. Today, our team chose to publicly display our unity in a new way and, in turn, urge others do the same. Our demonstration is simply a representation of how we hope our country can also come together by putting differences aside and solving its problems.”
The actions of NFL players remained in the spotlight after Trump, in a Saturday tweet, urged all NFL players to stand for the national anthem. In Baltimore, fans cheered as the public address announcer introduced the anthem and asked fans to join the Ravens’ players and organization in prayer to embrace “kindness, unity, equality and justice for all Americans.” The crowd booed as the Ravens held hands and dropped to a knee as a team. The players stood as one before the song, during which fans customarily chanted “O!” in tribute to the Orioles during “Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave.”
In Atlanta, several Buffalo Bills knelt behind a row of standing teammates. In Dallas, Los Angeles Rams defensive end Robert Quinn stood alongside his teammates with a fist in the air. The Dallas Cowboys drew perhaps the most attention last week by kneeling together before the anthem, owner Jerry Jones included, on “Monday Night Football.” On Sunday, before 1 p.m., all their players stood for the anthem. In Cleveland, several Browns raised fists while the Bengals locked arms.
This week, the Carolina Panthers met with owner Jerry Richardson after Richardson released a statement dissuading anthem protests. Some Panthers players prayed before the playing of the song in New England, but all — including quarterback Cam Newton, who had publicly contemplated a protest during the week — stood for the song. After Newton scored a touchdown in the third quarter, he dropped the ball and raised his left fist in the end zone.
“I did it to show black pride because I am an African American,” Newton said. Newton also praised sports as a vehicle to bring people together in explaining why he stood for the anthem.
Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch made his statement long before the anthem, wearing a T-shirt that read “Everybody Vs. Trump” as he entered Sports Authority Field in Denver. Lynch sat for the anthem, while every other Raider stood. Oakland staffers surrounded Lynch in an apparent attempt to hide him from view.
Indianapolis Colts players released a statement before their game in Seattle even started, explaining why some of them knelt in the face of criticism.
“To be clear — those of us who knelt did not intend to disrespect our flag, our National Anthem or those who serve our country,” the statement read. “We all have family and friends who are servicemen and women. We appreciate and respect the incredible sacrifices they make.
“But as NFL players, we have a platform. And as Americans, we have a responsibility to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Our intention was to raise awareness and continue critical conversations about real equality, the injustices against black and brown people, police brutality, respect, unity and equal opportunity. Our players are hurting, our people are hurting, our neighborhoods are hurting, and kneeling was a direct response to that hurt.”
The Colts’ players and coaches locked arms and stood Sunday night. On the other sideline, at least eight Seahawks — including defensive players Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark — sat. (Bennett is suing the Las Vegas Police Department over its use of force against him following the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight in Las Vegas; Bennett alleges officers held a gun to his head.) Seattle’s sideline otherwise looked standard, with players clustered around the sideline randomly, some swaying and some holding a hand over their heart.
Playing in London at 9:30 a.m. in the Eastern time zone, the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints provided a preview of the disjointed day to come. Three Dolphins — Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas and Michael Thomas — knelt on Miami’s sideline during the anthem. The Saints submitted a team-wide attempt to find middle ground between protest and unity, kneeling with arms locked during the coin toss and standing for the anthem. The entire team took part after 10 Saints knelt or sat on the bench last week. Quarterback Drew Brees called the demonstration “a way to show respect to all.”
A little over 24 hours earlier, President Trump had tweeted at NFL players over the anthem, writing: “Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our National Anthem. Respect our Flag and our Country!”
Last weekend, networks showed anthems in full. This week, Fox Sports showed the anthem in London, performed by Darius Rucker, but did not do so for its 1 p.m. games.
“As we have in previous broadcasts of NFL games from London, Fox will show the national anthem as well as ‘God Save the Queen’ live,” Fox said in a statement. “As is standard procedure, regionalized coverage of NFL games airing on Fox this Sunday will not show the national anthem live; however, our cameras are always rolling and we will document the response of players and coaches on the field.”
After a week in which the anthem dominated the conversation in the NFL, a group of owners met with Commissioner Roger Goodell in the league’s Park Avenue headquarters and held a conference call for all 32. As the weekend approached, another team seemed to seize on Green Bay Packers Aaron Rodgers’s comments this past week about redirecting the message to showing unity. The Seattle Seahawks announced Friday they would channel their protest into the Seahawks Players Equality & Justice for All Action Fund, which players said would support education and leadership programs addressing equality and justice.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Sunday that NFL players have a right to express themselves but he believes it would be more effective to separate the national anthem from protests about race relations in the country.
“I think we should just have separate and distinct conversations,” Ryan said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Because when you merge it into the flag and the anthem, it’s lost. . . . What so many Americans, I see this at home, see is you’re disrespecting the idea of America, that we want to make this free country a more perfect union and that people have died and fought and survived to protect it. So they don’t see the point that they’re trying to make. That’s what I’m trying to say.”
In a memo distributed to league personnel, Goodell called the week a “challenging” one, writing “our clubs and players have come together and entered into dialog (sic) like never before.” He also include a statement from the players of the Denver Broncos released Friday, which concluded: “We may have different values and beliefs, but there’s one thing we all agree on: We’re a team and we stand together — no matter how divisive some comments and issues can be, nothing should ever get in the way of that. Starting Sunday, we’ll be standing together.”
Mark Maske in Baltimore and Kelsey Snell contributed to this report.
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