The New York Knicks remained standing for the national anthem ahead of their game Tuesday night, but the players linked arms instead of placing their hands over their hearts, as the team had said they would.
The Knicks made their announcement in apparent response to the NBA’s memo, reportedly issued last week, that requires all players and coaches to stand during the patriotic pre-game moment.
“We have a deep love and respect for this country,” the Knicks tweeted from their public relations account. “The United States has given us all so much including an unbelievable opportunity and platform to stand up for what’s right.”
“Today, our country faces serious issues including gun violence, poverty, equal justice, access to education, and civil rights,” the team said, adding that their linked arms would be an effort to “call attention to these issues.”
Standing together, the team said, “is how we honor the sacrifices made to defend liberties.”
The Knicks’ gesture was the latest in a series of high-profile athletes’ protests against racial injustice sparked by former NFL star Colin Kaepernick in 2016. After Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police shootings of black people, other professional athletes have followed suit. Some of them have chosen to make other protest gestures, including linking arms or remaining in the locker room while the anthem is played.
President Donald Trump renewed the debate over these silent demonstrations in late September when he called the kneeling players “sons of bitches” and urged team owners to fire players who didn’t stand during the anthem. Trump’s remarks quickly inspired nearly all NFL teams to join the protest in some way during pre-game ceremonies. Soon after, NBA teams and even some Major League Baseball teams joined in.
Responding to the new wave of protests, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he expected all NBA players to stand for the anthem, but added that he also expected players to continue their civic engagement in other ways.
This past Friday, a day after Silver’s comments, the league distributed the memo reminding teams of the rule that players and coaches must stand during the anthem, ESPN reports. The memo said that no team had the “discretion to waive” the rule and that the league had the power to discipline players who did not stand.
Knicks players participated in the Kaepernick-inspired protests during the anthem last year, but this year feels different, according to star center Joakim Noah.
“Obviously it’s a very confusing time in this country and as athletes, we have platforms,” Noah told the New York Post during a Saturday practice.
“For some reason, I feel like things are a little different,” Noah said. “I don’t know why. I feel like there’s more emphasis on it. Shout out to Kaepernick for that.”