NFL Anthem Protests Continue As Owners Dither, Trump Agitates, Fans React

National anthem protests continued during Week 7 in the National Football League, although the headcount of those kneeling or otherwise acting out during the song has greatly diminished, mirroring media coverage of the actions.

Both protesting players and those opposed to their tactics now seem locked-in on their respective stances regarding the righteousness of the protests. The same players who protested in previous weeks either stayed in the locker room, kneeled or sat, while many teams stood and locked arms in a compromise maneuver.

On the other side, President Donald Trump keeps trying to stir the pot against their actions, this week by calling on Americans to sign a petition asking the NFL to make it mandatory to stand. The league has merely said players “should” stand, but has, so far, refused to order them to do so.

Fans also register disapproval in various ways, some through stated boycotts, others by turning off their television or not attending games. One fan even hired a plane to fly over the Jacksonville Jaguars stadium during its game with a banner reading, “Be American. Boycott the Jags and the NFL.”

Meanwhile, most team owners seemingly wring their hands and hope it all goes away, with a few outspoken exceptions. Commissioner Roger Goodell, owners, player representatives and others met in New York for two days this week, with declining TV ratings and other signs of diminishing fan interest the main topics.

Little to nothing was publicly resolved at the meetings, as players’ right to free speech and the desire by owners to have the football business prosper seem on separate planets. There has been some vague talk of providing a platform for player social activism outside of the games, but those plans seem to have little appeal on either side.

Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the anthem protests last year, added to the NFL woes this week. He filed a grievance with the NFL Players Association over his seeming banishment from the league. Kaepernick, a free agent, has not been signed by any team, even as some quarterbacks viewed as lesser-talents in some quarters have been enlisted by teams. He has hired high-profile attorney Mark Geragos to represent him.

In this week’s Sunday games, all members of the Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars stood for the anthem.

However, one of the biggest protests was again registered by the San Francisco 49ers. For the second week in a row, the 49ers had seven players kneel. Safety Eric Reid, linebacker Reuben Foster, linebacker Eli Harold, safety Adrian Colbert, cornerback K’Wann Williams and receiver Marquise Goodwin all took a knee during the anthem. The rest of the 49ers locked arms and stood.

Dallas Cowboy David Irving held a fist over his heart during the national anthem and then briefly raised it after the song’s conclusion.

Tennessee Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews remained in the locker room during the national anthem before the team’s game with the Cleveland Browns, as he has for four consecutive weeks. His teammates stood, but linebacker Wesley Woodyard and defensive lineman Jurrell Casey raised a right fist after the anthem. All members of the Browns stood.

At Miami, receiver Kenny Stills, tight end Julius Thomas and safety Michael Thomas continued their weeks-long protest, remaining in the tunnel during the national anthem. The Dolphins have instituted a team rule that all players must stand if they are on the sidelines, but gave them the option to remain in the tunnel. The three players were loudly booed by the crowd when they emerged.

The three players previously have taken a knee, most prominently in the Dolphins game in London against the New Orleans Saints in week four. Their opponents today, the New York Jets, stood as a team with arms locked, joined by owner Christopher Johnson.

Speaking of the Saints, most of that team knelt in unity before the national anthem in their game against Green Bay, then rose to stand during the actual song. Several players and coaches locked arms.

The Indianapolis Colts continued wearing their black t-shirts during warm-ups. The shirts say “We Will” on the front and “Stand for equality, justice, unity, respect, dialogue, opportunity” on the back. However, all players on the Colts stood with arms locked during the anthem for the third week in a row.

The sound of the national anthem prompted about 50 people to kneel outside of the Minnesota Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis in protest of police violence. They drew stares, boos and some limited support from passing fans, according to a news report. The protesters organized chants and held up cardboard signs that read “Got privilege?” and “Stop pretending your racism is patriotism.” Inside the stadium, the Vikings had several team members link arms during the anthem, but otherwise stood.

In Buffalo, no members of the Buffalo Bills kneeled. However, four players stood behind their teammates’ line, including Mike Tolbert, Kaelin Clay, Shareece Wright and Jerel Worthy.

In the late afternoon games, outspoken Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett and several teammates sat on the bench before their game against the New York Giants at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium.

Bennett was joined by injured player Cliff Avril, Sheldon Richardson, Frank Clark, Marcus Smith, Quinton Jefferson, Branden Jackson and Nazair Jones. Linebacker Michael Wilhoite took a knee, while center Justin Britt stood with his hand on Bennett’s shoulder and guard Oday Aboushi did the same with Jones.

New York Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon again knelt during the anthem. He was not in uniform and inactive. Vernon, one of the highest-paid Giants, has knelt for the previous three games, the only Giants players to have protested so extensively.

In Los Angeles, left tackle Russell Okung, who has been outspoken that the players should continue their protests, stood with his teammates during the national anthem, but raised his right fist. Okung attended the New York meetings with owners to discuss how protests would be handled moving forward.

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, some team members took a knee in the end zone prior to the national anthem before their game with the Cincinnati Bengals, then joined their teammates to stand on the sidelines.


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