shadow

As NFL preseason begins, so do protests by players

Some NFL players raised their fists or walked off the field in protest during the National Anthem, despite continued backlash, most prominently from President Trump. In July, the NFL scrapped a policy banning protesting, and have yet to announce a new one. 

Wilfredo Lee/AP
Miami Dolphins defensive end Robert Quinn raises his right fist during the singing of the national anthem before the team's NFL preseason football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Aug. 9, 2018, in Miami.

Player demonstrations took place during the national anthem at several early NFL preseason games Thursday night.

The demonstrations come after much debate over whether the NFL should penalize players for protesting during the anthem. In May, the league passed a rule that fined players from sitting or taking a knee during the anthem, but repealed the rule in July. Over the past two seasons, debate over whether the protests were an exercise of free speech or disrespectful dominated the sport. And once again, the most recent demonstrations drew rebuke from President Trump. 

Writing on Twitter from his New Jersey golf resort, Mr. Trump said Friday players "make a fortune doing what they love," and those who refuse to stand "proudly" for the anthem should be suspended without pay.

He contended "most of them are unable to define" what they're demonstrating against." Instead, he said, players should "Be happy, be cool!"

And while no players have taken a knee or sat during the anthem so far this preseason, some decided to walk off the field and others raised their fists. 

In Philadelphia, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback De'Vante Bausby raised their fists during the anthem, and defensive end Chris Long placed his arm around Jenkins's shoulder. Mr. Jenkins had stopped his demonstration last December.

Defensive end Michael Bennett walked out of the tunnel during the anthem and walked toward the bench while it played. It appeared all the Pittsburgh Steelers stood.

"Everybody is waiting for what the league is going to do," Jenkins said. "We won't let it stop what we stand for. I was very encouraged last year with the direction and that obviously took a different turn. I think it's important to utilize the platform as we can because for whatever reason, we have framed this demonstration in a negative light, and often players have to defend why we feel the need to fight for everyday Americans, and in actuality we're doing the right thing."

In Miami, Miami Dolphins receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson and defensive end Robert Quinn protested during the anthem. Mr. Stills and Mr. Wilson kneeled behind teammates lined up standing along the sideline. Mr. Quinn stood and raised his right fist. There were no apparent protests by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"As a black man in this world, I've got an obligation to raise awareness," Quinn said. "If no one wants to live in unity, that's why we're in the situation we're in."

Mr. Stills kneeled during the anthem during the 2016-17 seasons and has been vocal discussing social injustice issues that inspired the protest movement by NFL players.

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a leader of the movement, tweeted support for Stills and Wilson.

"My brother @kstills continued his protest of systemic oppression tonight by taking a knee," the tweet said. "Albert Wilson joined him in protest. Stay strong brothers!"

And in Seattle, three Seahawks players ran into the team's locker room prior to the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Defensive linemen Branden Jackson and Quinton Jefferson, and offensive lineman Duane Brown left the field following team introductions and before the start of the anthem. They returned to the sideline immediately after it concluded. All three were among a group of Seattle players that sat during the anthem last season.

Mr. Brown and Mr. Jefferson said they intend to continue the action all season. Seattle coach Pete Carroll said the team discussed the topic and decided to support individual decisions. Brown said he didn't believe there had been much progress made from the demonstrations of last season.

"Everyone was clear on my decision and understands and supports it," Brown said. "We all have different realities in this country and they understand my perspective. We're all on good terms."

In Jacksonville, Fla., four Jaguars remained in the locker room during the national anthem, and team officials said it would be up to the players to explain why they weren't on the field. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Telvin Smith, and running backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon joined teammates on the sideline after the anthem.

"As a man, I got certain beliefs," said Mr. Smith, who wore "Salute the Service" cleats. "You know what I mean? This is not going to become a distraction, and Jacksonville's not going to become a distraction for this team. I got beliefs. I did what I did. I don't know if it's going to be every week, can't answer if it's going to be every week.

"But as a man I've got to stand for something. I love my team, I'm dedicated to my teammates, and that's what we're talking about. I did what I did. It was love. I hope people see it and respect it. I respect views."

In Baltimore, both teams stood, but while most of the Baltimore Ravens lined up shoulder to shoulder on the sideline, second-year linebacker Tim Williams stood alone in front of the bench with his back toward the field.

All of the New England players appeared to stand for the national anthem, some bowing their heads and others placing their hands on their hearts. The Patriots observed a moment of silence beforehand for Weymouth, Mass., police officer Michael Chesna, who was killed last month in the line of duty.

The league and the players' union have yet to announce a policy for this season regarding demonstrations during the anthem.

"The NFL has been engaged in constructive discussions with the NFL Players Association regarding the anthem and issues of equality and social justice that are of concern to many Americans," league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email.

"While those discussions continue, the NFL has agreed to delay implementing or enforcing any club work rules that could result in players being disciplined for their conduct during the performance of the anthem."

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

Give us your feedback

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

 
of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.