By SIMON BRADY
The ongoing NFL protests during the national anthem reached a new height last Sunday afternoon. Week 3 of the NFL season was filled with players locking arms, kneeling, raising a fist and even staying in the locker room during the pregame national anthem.
The protests were sparked by controversial remarks made by President Donald Trump at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama last Friday afternoon. Trump passionately gave his opinion on how NFL owners should react to players protesting during the anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say get that son-of-a-bitch off the field right now. ‘He’s fired! He’s fired!’” Trump said.
The NFL protest saga began before Trump was elected office, as a cry for social justice. Back in August 2016, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and current free agent Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench during the national anthem of a preseason game. He explained his gesture in a postgame interview, declaring, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people.”
Kaepernick’s polarizing protest received plenty of support and backlash. Some other players have followed suit by kneeling for the anthem since that time. But until last Sunday, the silent protests had begun to die down around the league.
NFL owners, coaches and players responded to Trump’s comments Sunday in a big way. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks’ players all stayed in the locker room for the national anthem of their games. Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, former Army Ranger, was the only Steeler on the field for the anthem, who stood alone in the tunnel.
The Oakland Raiders were also in favor of remaining in the locker room during the national anthem in their game vs. the Washington Redskins, played in Washington, D.C. However, since they were playing on NBC’s Sunday Night Football in prime time with an 8:30 p.m. kickoff time, they would’ve forfeited the opportunity partake in the coin toss as the visiting team. Oakland players reluctantly elected to stay on the field for the anthem so they could better their chance of deciding wheather or not to start with possession on the opening drive.
The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots had more than a dozen players kneel in front of their home crowd before playing the Houston Texans. According to Patriots insider Tom E. Curran of CSN New England, some Patriots fans booed and chanted “Stand up!” at the players who chose to kneel during the anthem.
The Patriots organization’s reaction to Trump’s comments may be the most intriguing of any NFL team. The faces of the Patriots organization and three definite future hall of famers, owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have all showed support for Trump in the past.
Kraft and Brady have both been reported to have a close friendship with Trump that goes back many years. Kraft has stated that Trump called him once a week to see how he was doing after Kraft’s wife, Myra, died in 2011. The Patriots owner said Trump’s emotional support lifted his spirits during one of the more difficult times in his life.
Kraft chose to defend the players despite his relationship with Trump in a statement released on Sunday.
“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President of Friday,” Kraft said. “I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger.”
Brady was seen with a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker room last season. He also gave Trump a congratulatory call prior to his inauguration. But this week Brady spoke out against Trump for the first time publicly, following his comments.
“I certainly disagree with what he said,” Brady said. “I thought it was just divisive.”
Meanwhile, Belichick wrote a letter to Trump outlining his support for him last November at a rally just before the election. Kraft and Brady’s comments are a clear indication of the magnitude of Trump’s comments, given both players’ history with the President.
Elsewhere in the league, other notable NFL owners, such as Philadelphia Eagles Jeffrey Lurie, Atlanta Falcons Arthur Blank and Jacksonville Jaguars Shahid Khan, who donated to Trump’s inaugural committee, all locked arms with their players for the national anthem. Also, in just the first window of 1 p.m. games alone, a grand total of 130 players chose to kneel during the national anthem.
From NFL fans perspective, opinions on wheather the protests are effective and necessary are evenly split. But one thing is for sure, many NFL fans view fall Sunday’s as an escape from societal controversies were faced with every single day. NFL fans are hoping their Sunday’s primary focus to strictly be what happens on the feld.
Hopefully the unity and solidarity displayed last Sunday around the NFL caused by a disappointing set of circumstances will turn into a positive that provokes change moving forward. Satisfying owners, coaches, and players to the point where protesting doesn’t feel necessary, is a place the NFL now strives to reach moving forward.
Simon Brady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org