On the second Sunday after President Donald Trump’s flurry of caustic remarks about NFL players protesting during the national anthem, NFL teams and players demonstrated again in a variety of ways, from players making individual statements along sidelines to entire teams kneeling before the anthem or locking arms during the song.
The actions of NFL players remained in the spotlight after Trump, in a Saturday tweet, urged all NFL players to stand for the national anthem. In Baltimore, fans cheered as the public address announcer introduced the anthem and asked fans to join the Ravens players and organization in prayer to embrace “kindness, unity, equality and justice for all Americans.” The crowd booed as the Ravens held hands and dropped to a knee as a team. The players stood as one before the song, during which fans customarily chanted “O!” in tribute to the Orioles during “Oh say can you see you see?”
In Atlanta, several Buffalo Bills knelt behind a row of standing teammates. In Dallas, St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn stood alongside his teammates with a fist in the air. The Dallas Cowboys drew perhaps the most attention last week by kneeling together before the anthem, Owner Jerry Jones included, on “Monday Night Football.” Sunday before 1 p.m., all their players stood for the anthem. In Cleveland, several Browns raised fists while the Bengals locked arms.
This week, the Carolina Panthers met with Owner Jerry Richardson after Richardson released a statement dissuading anthem protests. Some Panthers players prayed before the playing of the song before their game in New England, but all – including quarterback Cam Newton, who had publicly contemplated a protest during the week – stood for the song.
Playing in London at 9:30 a.m. in the Eastern time zone, the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints provided a preview of the disjointed day to come. Three Dolphins – Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas and Michael Thomas – knelt on Miami’s sideline during the anthem. The Saints submitted a team-wide attempt to find middle ground between protest and unity, kneeling with arms locked during the coin toss and standing for the anthem. The entire team took part after 10 Saints knelt or sat on the bench last week. Quarterback Drew Brees called the demonstration “a way to show respect to all.”
A little over 24 hours earlier, Trump had tweeted at NFL players over the anthem, writing: “Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our National Anthem. Respect our Flag and our Country!”
Fox Sports showed the anthem, performed by Darius Rucker, for the London game, although it did not do so for its 1 p.m. games.
“As we have in previous broadcasts of NFL games from London, Fox will show the national anthem as well as ‘God Save the Queen’ live,” Fox said in a statement. “As is standard procedure, regionalized coverage of NFL games airing on Fox this Sunday will not show the national anthem live; however, our cameras are always rolling and we will document the response of players and coaches on the field.”
Last week, Sports President Eric Shanks had indicated the network would revert to the usual practice of selling that time to advertisers. The anthem is typically only shown on telecasts on the Thursday night kickoff game and before the Super Bowl.
“The standard procedure is not to show them because of the way the commercial format works and the timing of the anthem to get to the kickoff,” Fox Sports President Eric Shanks said (via Newsday) Tuesday. “So I think we’re going to pay attention to events.”
Reaction among fans to the demonstrations during the anthem have been mixed. The Green Bay Packers had invited fans to link arms along with them, standing for the anthem preceding Thursday night’s game, but Lambeau Field fans had other ideas. Some fans chanted “USA!” before the song began and during it there were boos. It was a scene that left Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and other players thinking that perhaps their message of protesting police brutality and social injustice was erroneously being tied to the flag and the military.
“The messaging of this unfortunately needs to continue to be redirected, I think,” Rodgers said. “It’s never been about the national anthem. It’s never been about the military. We’re all patriotic in the locker room. We love our troops. This is about something bigger than that – an invitation to show unity in the face of some divisiveness from the top in this country. And I’m proud of our guys. This has been a galvanizing situation for us. … (A)s much as some people want us to just shut up and play football and keep the politics to the politics, sports and politics have always intersected. And if we can help continue a conversation through demonstration of unity … I think that’s a good thing.
“We could hear some USA chants as it started, which is fantastic. Could also hear some negativity being yelled during the anthem. Semantics there, right? What’s disrespectful to the anthem? Yelling things during it or standing at attention with arms locked, facing the flag? That’s for you to decide.”
After a week in which the anthem dominated the conversation in the NFL, a group of owners met with Commissioner Roger Goodell in the league’s Park Avenue headquarters and held a conference call for all 32. Although ESPN reports that Goodell said of the players, “We can’t just tell them to stop” their protests, owners expressed their concerns:
“‘We need to find a way where Trump doesn’t win,’ one said, and that meant using leverage as employers to end the protests. Another said, ‘We’ll get our guys in line.’ It was clear to many in the room that this was a regional issue as much as a political one, with owners’ tolerance for kneeling shaped more by their fans in local markets than their own personal politics. Dan Snyder, who had joined his players in arms at FedEx Field on Sunday night, was in an especially divisive market and was particularly dismissive of the kneeling. ‘It was raw for a lot of owners,’ an owner says.”
Each of the owners had a point of view and finally Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys took control, Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr., write. “How do we address the root issue for the players on this?” he asked. “In the long run, it’s not good to kneel. People don’t want football to be politicized, but there’s a need to do something to listen to our players and help them.”
As the weekend approached, another team seemed to seize on Rodgers’ comment about redirecting the message. The Seattle Seahawks announced Friday they would channel their protest into the Seahawks Players Equality and Justice for All Action Fund, which players said would support education and leadership programs addressing equality and justice.
In an opinion piece on The Washington Post’s website, Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles added that players want what everyone else wants:
“I’ve heard people say that my colleagues and I are un-American and unpatriotic. Well, we want to make America great. We want to help make our country safe and prosperous. We want a land of justice and equality. True patriotism is loving your country and countrymen enough to want to make it better.”
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Sunday that NFL players have a right to express themselves but he believes it would be more effective to separate the national anthem from protests about race relations in the country.
“I think we should just have separate and distinct conversations,” Ryan said in an interview on CBS’ Face the Nation. “Because when you merge it into the flag and the anthem, it’s lost.”
Ryan said protestors do not necessarily consider the act of kneeling during the anthem as a sign of disrespect – but many spectators disagree.
“What so many Americans, I see this at home, see is you’re disrespecting the idea of America, that we want to make this free country a more perfect union and that people have died and fought and survived to protect it,” Ryan said. “So they don’t see the point that they’re trying to make. That’s what I’m trying to say.”
In a memo distributed to league personnel, Goodell called the week a “challenging” one, writing “our clubs and players have come together and entered into dialog like never before.” He also include a statement from the players of the Denver Broncos released on Friday, which concluded: “We may have different values and beliefs, but there’s one thing we all agree on: We’re a team and we stand together – no matter how divisive some comments and issues can be, nothing should ever get in the way of that.
“Starting Sunday, we’ll be standing together.”
The ripple effect of the protests has touched those outside of the league whose business often center Sundays around the NFL. A few minutes before kickoff, Art Cox stood on the fuel dock of the Hard Yacht Cafe, his waterfront restaurant in working-class Dundalk, Maryland, and watched the military jets getting into formation overhead for their flyover during the anthem at M&T Bank Stadium just a few miles away.
“It’s pretty quiet in there,” Cox said, gesturing towards the restaurant.
Normally, he said, the restaurant would be packed for a Ravens game, the parking lot would be jammed and boats would be lining up for slips.
But on this Sunday, half the tables sat empty and only a few customers sat at the bar. The TVs were tuned to the game, but the volume was turned off and a band was setting up to play outside.
When one man asked the bartender to turn up the volume, she said she couldn’t, and the man canceled his food order and left.
After last Sunday’s kneel-down in London, more than a dozen of Cox’s customers walked out, and the ones who remained were almost unanimous in their disgust over the players’ protest.
Cox spent much of the week pulling all the Ravens decorations and advertising signage off the walls, even pulling in a purple, Ravens-logged buoy that sat just off the dock. He decided to stop building the restaurant’s fall Sundays around the Ravens, and hired the band to play at 1 p.m.
“We’ll have to see how it goes,” Cox said of his business on Sunday. “But so far it’s not looking good.”
Some people at the restaurant wore Ravens jerseys and watched the game attentively – with no volume – but most barely even noticed it was on.
The Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin and Mark Maske contributed to this report from Baltimore. The Post’s Kelsey Snell contributed from Washington.