UPDATE: In the later NFL games, veteran New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who created a storm of controversy by saying he would not kneel because he didn’t want to disrespect the flag or military, stood during the national anthem. But he wore a t-shirt during warmups that said “Say Her Name,” a reference to the police shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky.
In Maryland, the Philadelphia Eagles remained in the locker room during the national anthem, while the Washington Football Team stood on its sideline.
In Foxborough, Mass., all of the New England Patriots stood for the anthem, while their opponents, the Miami Dolphins, remained in the locker room. New England quarterback Cam Newton wore cleats saying “7 Shots” and “No Justice No Peace.”
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EARLIER: The NFL’s early games today saw six teams remain in the locker room during the national anthem, while some players and coaches kneeled, sat on the bench, or raised fists during the song.
The Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, and Miami Dolphins elected to stay inside during the anthem. There were 18 teams involved in the NFL’s early games on Sunday.
The games were played largely without fans attending, avoiding the embarrassment of the public booing heard during Thursday’s Kansas City Chiefs-Houston Texans pre-game. At that event, some fans booed when the two teams linked arms at mid-field in what was called a show of unity over social justice issues.
The NFL does not require teams to be on the field during the national anthem and does not have a policy on conduct during the song.
Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich kneeled during the national anthem.
A statement from the Colts said, “Our intent is to bring attention to the issue of systemic racism and the injustice inherit therein. We also wanted to demonstrate a symbolic gesture of how we believe meaningful change happens. TO BE CLEAR — we were not protesting the flag, the anthem, or the men and women who wear the uniform. The timing of this action is meant to highlight that the presence, power, and oppression of racism remains inconsistent with the unity and freedoms of what it means to be an American.”
In Minnesota, the city where the death of George Floyd led to international protests and some rioting, the Minnesota Vikings did not sound the Gjallarhorn that is used to signal the kickoff of every home game. The team said in a statement, they did so out of respect for the family of George Floyd. Members of Floyd’s family were at U.S. Bank Stadium as guests of the team.
The Jacksonville Jaguars players said in a statement that they remained inside during the anthem and were “unified by our humanity, our respect for each other, our support of one another, and our common goals as teammates.” The team said it would “continue raising awareness of racial injustice against the Black community. We understand that not everyone will agree with our position and demonstration, however we hope that all will seek to understand the reason for it. We all want the same thing: equality and justice.”
Both the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons teams took a knee after the kickoff of their game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The two teams watched as the ball went through the end zone, then both dropped a knee for ten seconds. The Falcons also named the late Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights activist, as an honorary captain for the game.
In Baltimore, a large portion of the Baltimore Ravens kneeled or sat on the bench during the national anthem. Quarterback Lamar Jackson took a knee. Ravens players wore black T-shirts during warmups with message that read, “Injustice against one of us is injustice against all of us. On the back, it had the words: “End Racism.” When the so-called Black national anthem was played before the Star-Spangled Banner, Ravens players, coaches and owner Steve Bisciotti stood in the end zone side by side, with players Marlon Humphrey and Matthew Judon taking knees.
The Green Bay Packers issued a statement saying they “respect the national anthem and United States flag and all that they represent, including the right to express ourselves. We decided as a team to remain in the locker room during the playing of the national anthem and ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ so as to not distract from our message that we stand united for social justice and racial equality. This is part of our continued call on our leaders to engage in meaningful dialogue that results in change. We feel it is important for all of us to participate in these difficult conversations with humility and be open to different perspectives.”
EARLIER: If you tuned in late to the Kansas City Chiefs-Houston Texans NFL season opener on Thursday night, you missed the most important action of the game.
The final score and the night’s big plays took a backseat today to the social activism on display, which included fans booing a pregame show of unity by the two teams, who linked arms at midfield before the kickoff. As the players lined up, a scoreboard message flashed the phrases “We Support Equality,” “We Must End Racism.” “We Believe in Justice for All,” “We Must End Police Brutality,” “We Choose Unconditional Love,” “We Believe Black Lives Matter” and “It Takes All of Us.”
There also was a taped performance of the so-called Black national anthem “Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing” by Alicia Keys, and a video of singers Chloe X Halle wearing t-shirts commemorating George Floyd and Breonna Taylor during their rendition of the national anthem.
The demonstrations were not limited to the players. NBC announcer Cris Collinsworth made a statement of support after the mid-field show of unity demonstration. It was one of several made by the game’s analysts in the pre- and halftime reports, as the commentary seemed equally divided between game analysis and a social activism struggle session.
Today, the league and fans assessed the fallout from those activities, and looked ahead to Sunday’s larger slate of games. For the most part, teams are playing it close to the vest as to how they plan to stage their own social activism on Sunday.
Only the Miami Dolphins have outlined a firm plan for Sunday’s games, saying they will remain in the locker room during the national anthem. “This attempt to unify only creates more divide,” the Dolphins said in their message. “We need changed hearts, not just a response to pressure. Enough, no more fluff and empty gestures. We need owners with influence and pockets bigger than ours to call up officials and flex political power.”
Other teams are either not saying or will decide on Saturday how they will demonstrate. Most indications are that there will be some form of activism on display, as players have held team meetings to discuss plans.
Fans watching on television have already voted with their feet, dropping ratings on the opening night marquee match, a surprising development given that the game featured the Super Bowl champions against a leading contender.
The New York Giants have not decided how they will demonstrate for their Monday Night Football match against the Pittsburgh Steelers, although team leaders Sterling Shepard and running back Saquon Barkley say they have options being discussed.
The New York Jets Adam Gase said his team will decided on Saturday morning what they will do. “We’ve had a few discussions on it, I think we’re close to finalizing what we want to do,” Gase said on Friday during his virtual press conference. “We have a discussion [Saturday] morning with our captains and leadership council. What we talked about was making sure before we got on that plane, we knew how we were going about everything.”
Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford said that players had been given “the green light” to demonstrate, something forbidden in the past “Just trying to find something that’s going to make a boom,” Crawford told reporters.
“The discussions are continuing every day,” said Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. “We still haven’t gotten a final decision about what we want to do and how we want to go about it.”
A Washington Post poll said that slightly more than half of Americans polled, 56 percent, now believe it is appropriate for athletes to kneel during the national anthem as a form of protest. That number grows to 62 percent in response to a question on whether athletes have the right to express themselves on social and national issues. The telephone poll was conducted Sept. 1-6, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 points.
That’s heartening news to some. But the NFL and its broadcasters have to be worried about the 42 percent surveyed who did not agree with that social activism by players. If that translates to extremely lower television ratings in a season expected to be played with minimal fan presence, that’s a formula for disaster.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has stated that the league will support players who protest racial injustice in the US during the upcoming season.
“We’re going to stand behind our players,” Goodell said on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley.” “We respect our players and they have done a great job of bringing attention to these issues. Our focus now is, ‘How do we support them in making the changes?’”
Sunday will be a big test on whether that business decision will be supported by the customers.
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