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NFL teams respond to Trump with non-participation, kneeling in protest

Mitchell Gunn/Getty Images
Mitchell Gunn/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — NFL players, teams and owners across the league responded Sunday to President Trump’s criticism of players kneeling in protest during the national anthem, with some kneeling, others locking arms and still others choosing not to participate in the national anthem ceremony at all.

As the “Star-Spangled Banner” played at Soldier Field in Chicago for the noon game between the Chicago Bears and the Steelers, the Pittsburgh team’s sideline was virtually empty.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told a CBS Sports reporter prior to the game that his team would stay in the locker room during the anthem.

“We’re not participating in the anthem today,” Tomlin said, adding that the action was “not to be disrespectful to the anthem” but to remove the team “from this circumstance.”

“People shouldn’t have to choose” whether to kneel or stand during the anthem, he said. “If a guy feels a need to do something he should not be separated from his teammate who chooses not to.”

“So we’re not participating today,” he said. “That’s our decision.”

During the anthem, several Steelers coaches were on the sidelines and one player, former Army Ranger Alejandro Villaneuva, stood near the tunnel to the team’s locker room, ESPN reported.

The decision by most Steelers not to participate was among the many varied responses on Sunday and over the weekend to Trump’s calling for the firing of NFL players who kneel in protest during the anthem.

Both the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans, who played each other on Sunday, made separate announcements that nobody from either team would be on the sidelines for the anthem.

“As a team, we wanted to be unified in our actions today. 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,” the Titan’s statement said.

The Seahawks players statement said, “As a team, we have decided we will not participate in the national anthem. We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms. We remain committed in continuing work towards equality and justice for all.”

Earlier Sunday, a host of players in London took a knee and locked arms together as the United States national anthem was performed.

Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady

The Green Bay Packers’ quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, posted on Instagram that he supports fellow NFL players and coaches and included a photo of him kneeling with three other teammates, with the hashtags: “#unity #brotherhood #family #dedication #love”

Underneath the post, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady appeared to endorse Rogers’ stance with a raised-fist emoji.

Brady also posted on Instagram a supportive message to all NFL players.

Arm-in-arm at a game across the Atlantic

A game played at Wembley Stadium in London was a matchup between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens. Among the players and coaches locking arms with players during the protest over the U.S. national anthem was Jaguars owner Shahid Khan.

Jaguars tight end Mercedes Lewis and linebackers Telvin Smith and Dante Fowler as well as defensive tackle Calais Campbell and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and cornerback Jalen Ramsey all took knees as did Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley, wide receiver Mike Wallace and safety Lardarius Webb.

The ones who didn’t kneel stood arm-in-arm throughout the playing of both country’s anthems. The team’s official Twitter account posted a one-word tweet “Unity” to capture the moment.

 

Unity pic.twitter.com/wSNsc4BSEV

— Jacksonville Jaguars (@Jaguars) September 24, 2017

 

Khan himself released a statement calling Trump remarks as “divisive and contentious” and declared his support for his players after meeting with some of them before the game. He said he was “honored to be arm in arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during our anthem.”

The owner added that the team and the NFL “reflects our nation” said that it was personally important “to show the world that even if we may differ at times, we can and should be united in the effort to become better as people and a nation.” 

 

Several Jaguars and Ravens players at Wembley kneel for the US National anthem, stand for the British national anthem.

— Henry Hodgson (@nflukhank) September 24, 2017

 

Trump’s view

The protests come in response to the president’s comments at a rally Friday night in Alabama when he said: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say: ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now, out.”

The president then appeared to channel his signature command from when he hosted the reality television show “The Apprentice.”

“He’s fired. He’s fired.”

On Sunday, before NFL games kicked off, the president’s tweets reinforced his anti-anthem protest message.

He also suggested that if fans refuse to go to games due to the protests, “you will see change fast.”

 

…NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017

 

 

If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017

 

On Saturday night, the president went after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for criticizing Trump’s condemnation of kneeling players.

Goodell is “trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country,” Trump tweeted. 

 

Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.Tell them to stand!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017

 

NFL to air ‘unity’ commercial

The NFL commissioner did not mention the president by name in his statement Saturday.

“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities,” Goodell said.

The NFL also announced that it would re-air its commercial from February, “Inside These Lines,” promoting societal unity and tolerance. “It reflects the unifying force of our great game, our players & clubs,” Goodell said on Twitter.

In the commercial spot, Academy Award-winning actor Forrest Whittaker narrates as various lines are chalked on the grass.

Just as Jacksonville Jaguars’ defensive end Eli Ankou, who is black, lifts opposing Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who is white, off the turf, Whittaker softly states: “We may have our differences but recognize there’s more that unites us.”

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