Against the backdrop of President Trump’s latest tweet urging NFL players to stand for the national anthem, three members of the Miami Dolphins took a knee during the national anthem and the New Orleans Saints knelt, then rose to their feet before Sunday morning’s game in London’s Wembley Stadium.
The Saints, as quarterback Drew Brees had promised in a tweet, emulated the Dallas Cowboys, who last week took a knee with owner Jerry Jones, then stood for the anthem. “As a way to show respect to all, our #Saints team will kneel in solidarity prior to the national anthem & stand together during the anthem.”
The Saints linked arms, with Adrian Peterson holding his hands in prayer. On the other sideline Julius Thomas, Michael Thomas and Kenny Stills chose to kneel. Dolphins players did not link arms as so many others teams have done. Many players on both sides placed their hands over their hearts.
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!”
Fox Sports showed the anthem, sung by Darius Rucker, although it was unclear whether the network would do the same for its 1 p.m. EDT kickoffs. Last week, Sports President Eric Shanks had indicated the network would revert to the usual practice of selling that time to advertisers. The anthem is typically only shown on telecasts on the Thursday night kickoff game and before the Super Bowl.
“The standard procedure is not to show them because of the way the commercial format works and the timing of the anthem to get to the kickoff,” Fox Sports President Eric Shanks said (via Newsday) Tuesday. “So I think we’re going to pay attention to events.”
Reaction among fans to the demonstrations during the anthem have been mixed. The Green Bay Packers had invited vans to link arms along with them, standing for the anthem preceding Thursday night’s game, but Lambeau Field fans had other ideas. Some fans chanted “USA!” before the song began and during it there were boos. It was a scene that left Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and other players thinking that perhaps their message of protesting police brutality and social injustice was erroneously being tied to the flag and the military.
“The messaging of this unfortunately needs to continue to be redirected, I think,” Rodgers said. “It’s never been about the national anthem. It’s never been about the military. We’re all patriotic in the locker room. We love our troops. This is about something bigger than that — an invitation to show unity in the face of some divisiveness from the top in this country. And I’m proud of our guys. This has been a galvanizing situation for us. … [A]s much as some people want us to just shut up and play football and keep the politics to the politics, sports and politics have always intersected. And if we can help continue a conversation through demonstration of unity … I think that’s a good thing.
“We could hear some USA chants as it started, which is fantastic. Could also hear some negativity being yelled during the anthem. Semantics there, right? What’s disrespectful to the anthem? Yelling things during it or standing at attention with arms locked, facing the flag? That’s for you to decide.”
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. Although ESPN reports that Goodell said of the players, “We can’t just tell them to stop” their protests, owners expressed their concerns:
“We need to find a way where Trump doesn’t win,” one said, and that meant using leverage as employers to end the protests. Another said, “We’ll get our guys in line.” It was clear to many in the room that this was a regional issue as much as a political one, with owners’ tolerance for kneeling shaped more by their fans in local markets than their own personal politics. Dan Snyder, who had joined his players in arms at FedEx Field on Sunday night, was in an especially divisive market and was particularly dismissive of the kneeling. “It was raw for a lot of owners,” an owner says.
Each of the owners had a point of view and finally Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys took control, Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr., write. “How do we address the root issue for the players on this?” he asked. “In the long run, it’s not good to kneel. People don’t want football to be politicized, but there’s a need to do something to listen to our players and help them.”
As the weekend approached, another team seemed to seize on Rodgers’s comment about redirecting the message. The Seattle Seahawks announced Friday they would channel their protest into the Seahawks Players Equality and Justice for All Action Fund, which players said would support education and leadership programs addressing equality and justice.
In an opinion piece on The Post’s website, Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles added that players want what everyone else wants.
I’ve heard people say that my colleagues and I are un-American and unpatriotic. Well, we want to make America great. We want to help make our country safe and prosperous. We want a land of justice and equality. True patriotism is loving your country and countrymen enough to want to make it better.
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 like never before.” He also include a statement from the players of the Denver Broncos released on 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.”
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