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NFL Players Protest Trump And Racism In Games Across The Country

Football players have been galvanized by criticism from the president.

09/24/2017 11:54 EDT | Updated 09/25/2017 11:35 EDT

All eyes were on the NFL this weekend― but not just for what happened after the kickoffs.

NFL players throughout the country demonstrated before their games in defiance of President Trump’s harsh criticism of athletes who kneel during the national anthem. Former San Fransisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick spearheaded the movement last season as a way to call out racism. In a Friday speech in Alabama, Trump called such players “sons of bitches,” and then doubled down on his criticism in a series of follow-up posts on Twitter.

The first such protest occurred Sunday morning in London, and even included the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Shahid Khan. He linked arms with his players — several of whom were kneeling during the anthem — despite having donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.

Trump’s comments sparked a large social media response from a variety of professional athletes and celebrities, including singer Stevie Wonder, who took a knee during a performance Saturday night. The vast majority of NFL team owners, as well as the league’s commissioner Roger Goodell, also spoke out.

“The callous and offensive comments made by the President are contradictory to what this great country stands for,” 49ers CEO Jed York said.

Bruce Maxwell, a catcher for the Oakland Athletics, became the first major league baseball player to take a knee during the national anthem Saturday night.

Trump responded to the demonstrations Sunday afternoon. He supported the shows of solidarity of players linking arms, but still disapproved those who chose to kneel, calling it “not acceptable.” On Monday, he cheered fans who had booed some of the protesting athletes and claimed that his criticism had “nothing to do with race.”

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Baltimore Ravens

Players and staff on both teams kneeled and linked arms during the national anthem. An estimated 27 individuals took a knee on the field.

Khan later said that it was a “privilege” to stand with the players.

“I met with our team captains prior to the game to express my support for them, all NFL players and the league following the divisive and contentious remarks made by President Trump, and was honored to be arm in arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during our anthem,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do, and we can do it, but the comments by the president make it harder.”

Future NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, who visited then-President-elect Trump in New York in December, also kneeled. In the past, though, Lewis has spoken against Kaepernick’s protests.

“But I am against the way he’s done it,” Lewis said.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Chicago Bears

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin announced that his team would be staying in the locker room during the national anthem during Sunday’s game. 

“We’re football players, we’re football coaches. We’re not participating in the anthem today. Not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but to remove ourselves from this circumstance,” Tomlin told CBS News. “People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t have to be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something, he shouldn’t be separated from his teammate who chooses not to. So we’re not participating today.”

As it turned out, almost all the Steelers declined to come out on the field for the anthem. Offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, an Army veteran, broke with the team to stand on the field for the national anthem. When the Steelers emerged, many in the Chicago crowd booed them.

Miami Dolphins vs. New York Jets

Miami Dolphins player Julius Thomas announced that he would be taking a knee with his teammates. Both teams linked arms during the national anthem.

The Jets were joined by chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson.

“It was an honor and a privilege to stand arm-in-arm unified with our players during today’s national anthem,” he later said in a statement. “We are very proud of our players and their strong commitment to work in our community to make a positive, constructive, and unifying impact.”

Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross called the protesting athletes “men of character.”

“Our country needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness,” he said. “We need to seek to understand each other and have civil discourse instead of condemnation and sound bites.”

New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles player Malcolm Jenkins announced his team will be locking arms during the national anthem. In the past, Jenkins has raised his fist during the national anthem as a form of protest.

Both teams locked arms during the national anthem and several Eagles players raised their fists. The Eagles owners stood with the players.

New York Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch sharply criticized Trump’s remarks, saying that “comments like we heard last night from the president are inappropriate, offensive and divisive.”

Atlanta Falcons vs. Detroit Lions

The owner of the Atlanta Falcons Arthur Blank stood on the sideline with his team.

“Creating division or demonizing viewpoints that are different than our own accomplishes nothing positive and undermines our collective ability to achieve the ideals of our democracy,” he said in a statement on Saturday.

Several Lions and Falcons players kneeled during the anthem, others linked arms in solidarity. 

 

Rico Lavelle, who sang the anthem at Ford Field in Detroit, joined the demonstrations as well, finishing his rendition of the anthem by kneeling and raising his fist in the air. 

Lions’ Owner Martha Ford expressed support for players’ right to protest in a statement on Sunday.

“Our game has long provided a powerful platform for dialogue and positive change in many communities throughout our nation,” she said.

Cleveland Browns vs. Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said that he was “troubled by the president’s recent comments about our league and our players” while Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam called out the “misguided, uninformed and divisive comments from the president.”

“Our stance in support of the liberties of peaceful, personal expression afforded to our players and all Americans will remain strong, and we will continue to encourage our players to respectfully use their earned platform to inspire positive change in our nation and throughout society,” the Haslams said in a statement.

Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who was considered a potential Trump supporter during the election, was seen linking arms with his fellow teammates, but also had his hand over his heart. 

Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a friend and supporter of Trump’s, said that he was “deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the president on Friday.”

“Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful,” Kraft said.

Texans CEO Robert McNair also criticized Trump’s comments as “divisive and counterproductive to what our country needs right now.”

New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers

The Panthers were not seen kneeling, but one player, Julius Peppers, was not on the field for the national anthem and later appeared.

“Our organization takes great pride in equality and inclusion and find the comments by the President disappointing and inappropriate relative to our players on this issue,” the Saints owners said in a statement.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Minnesota Vikings

Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf said that they were “proud of our players, coaches and staff for the important role they play in our community, and we fully support their constitutional right to respectfully and peacefully express their beliefs.”

Denver Broncos vs. Buffalo Bills

The Broncos were booed as many players chose to take a knee during the national anthem.

Broncos Chairman and CEO Joe Ellis meanwhile applauded the players for “raising awareness for important societal issues by using their platform in a positive way.”

Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula said that,“President Trump’s remarks were divisive and disrespectful to the entire NFL community, but we tried to use them as an opportunity to further unify our team and our organization.”

Seattle Seahawks vs. Tennessee Titans

The Seahawks’ players announced before the game at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee that they would not be participating in the national anthem to “protest the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country.” The team’s players revealed their decision in a statement to ESPN correspondent Josina Anderson.

Seahawks President Peter McLoughlin said that the team’s management “fully support[s] our players’ use of their freedom of speech and peaceful action to highlight the existing racial and other divides in our country.”

The Titans announced that they too will not appear on field during the national anthem in order to remain united as a team. Unlike the Seahawks, the Titans emphasized that the gesture would not be a protest of racism.

“As a team, we wanted to be unified in our actions today,” the team stated. “The players jointly decided this was the best course of action. Our commitment to the military and our community is resolute and the absence of our team for the national anthem shouldn’t be misconstrued as unpatriotic.”

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Green Bay Packers

Three Green Bay Packers players ― Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks and Kevin King ― sat during the national anthem, marking the first occasion when any member of the team protested during the song. Other players, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers, stood and locked arms.

“It’s unfortunate that the president decided to use his immense platform to make divisive and offensive statements about our players and the NFL,” Packers CEO Mark Murphy said in statement. “We believe strongly that players are leaders in our communities and positive influences. They have achieved their positions through tremendous work and dedication and should be celebrated for their success and positive impact.” 

’We believe that it is important to support any of our players who choose to peacefully express themselves with the hope for good,” Murphy added. “As Americans, we are fortunate to be able to speak openly and freely.”  

Kendricks went on to catch the Packers’ first touchdown of the game, performing the iconic “Lambeau leap” into the stands, where the fans received him warmly.

None of the Bengals players took a knee during the national anthem, choosing instead to stand and lock arms.

“Football and politics don’t mix easily. Fans come to NFL games to watch great competition on the playing field and that’s where our focus should be,” the team said in a statement.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Chargers

Oakland Raiders vs. Washington Redskins

The Oakland Raiders offensive line, the only all-black unit in the NFL, sat alongside the entire team in protest during the anthem. Raiders players remained seated on the team bench, arms linked together, in a slightly different version of the “take the knee” protest.

The Washington Redskins had mixed responses during the anthem, with some players kneeling and the majority standing with linked arms. Redskins owner Dan Snyder stood with the team in solidarity with his players. 

Snyder donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee earlier this year.

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