NFL Players Kneel And Link Arms During The National Anthem In Defiance Of Trump


Matthew Lewis / Getty Images

Here’s a quick briefing:

* NFL athletes, coaches, owners and others defied President Trump on Sunday after he said that football players who protest the National Anthem should be fired.

* Players and teams around the league showed their displeasure with Trump’s comments by kneeling and sitting during the anthem, linking arms, and wearing shirts standing with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the protest.

* Below is a game-by-game breakdown of how teams made their statement.

* Other teams opted to not come out for the anthem. The Steelers did so to avoid being political, their coach said. Both the Seahawks and Titans, who played each other, didn’t come out for the anthem, leading to a surreal scene with no players on the field during the song.

* Some owners joined their teams on the field, which is rare.

* Trump tweeted on Sunday afternoon, “Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!”

* The controversy began in 2016, Kaepernick began sitting and kneeling during the Anthem to protest police brutality. Kaepernick has since become a free agent, and hasn’t been hired by any team — while players who are not as good gets jobs. Many believe he is being locked out because his protest draws attention.

* Since 2016, other players around the league have kneeled during the anthem — the first MLB player did so this week.


Alex Pantling / Getty Images

Here’s how Trump handled things:

After several NFL teams defied Trump, the president tweeted on Sunday that he thinks linked arms are a show of “Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country.”

“Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!” he tweeted.

It seems like Trump is trying to make the linked arms not be seen as a rebuttal to his comments — but they are.

Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!

He then retweeted a message encouraging people to boycott the NFL.

“You can boycott our anthem WE CAN BOYCOTT YOU! #NFL #MAGA” the tweet says.

And he retweeted a message seeming to call the protests disrespectful to the military: “I wonder what this BRAVE American would give to stand on his OWN two legs just ONCE MORE for our #Anthem?”

@realDonaldTrump I wonder what this BRAVE American would give to stand on his OWN two legs just ONCE MORE for our… https://t.co/BmksUHT8Qs

The backlash against the president’s Friday comments came from NFL players, team CEOs and owners (some of whom have contributed to or supported Trump in the past), and commentators.

Anchors and guests on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown devoted a segment to Trump’s comments that players should be fired for protesting during the anthem.

Retired NFL player and outspoken racial justice advocate Anquan Boldin talked about the reasoning behind players like Kaepernicks’ initial protests.

“It’s not a protest against America, it’s a protest against what isn’t right in America. It’s what we stand for as Americans,” he said.

Rex Ryan, a former coach and ESPN analyst, said he was a Trump supporter, even having introduced Trump at a rally in upstate New York, until he saw the president’s comments on Friday.

“I’m pissed off, you know, I’ll be honest with you, because I supported Donald Trump. I sat back and when he asked me to introduce him at a rally in Buffalo, I did that. But I’m reading these comments and it’s appalling to me. I’m sure it’s appalling to almost any citizen in our country. It should be,” Ryan said. “Calling our players SOBs and all that kind of stuff. That’s not the men that I know. The men that I know in the locker room, I’m proud of. I’m proud to be associated with those people. I apologize for being pissed off, but guess what, that’s it, because right away I’m associated with what Donald Trump stands for.”

Trump asked the crowd in Huntsville on Friday if they’d “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,” going on to say that an NFL owner would be “the most popular person in this country” if they fired a protesting player.

Some of Trump’s cabinet officials rushed to his defense on Sunday. “They have the right to have their first amendment off the field,” said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who is embroiled in his own scandal for using government jets. “This is a job and the employers have the right when the players are working to have rules.”

Mnuchin later said NFL team owners should meet and “vote on a rule” forcing players to stand for the national anthem. “Players have the right for free speech off the field. On the field, this is about respect for lots of people,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell condemned Trump’s comments in a statement on Saturday and said on Sunday that the organization will air an ad during NBC’s Sunday Night Football—in prime time—that “reflects the unifying force of our great game, our players & clubs”, he said on Twitter.

Airing the ad, which was created by the NFL earlier this year for the SuperBowl, is intended to be a direct response to Trump’s comments, a spokesperson told CNN Money.

“We think this is the single best response to demonstrate what we are about,” an NFL spokesman told CNN Money. “It stands in stark contrast to some who practice the politics of division.”

And Kaepernick’s mother, Teresa Kaepernick, has been tweeting in support of her son.

Players from both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens kneeled and linked arms during the National Anthem before their game in London on Sunday.

The Ravens were joined by Ray Lewis, a former linebacker for the team and perhaps the most notable Ravens player in the history of the franchise.

Notably, team owner Shad Khan joined the players on the field in their protest. It is very rare for an owner to do this.

“It was a privilege to stand on the sidelines with the Jacksonville Jaguars today for the playing of the U.S. national anthem at Wembley Stadium,” Khan said in a statement to the Associated Press. “I met with our team captains prior to the game to express my support for them, all NFL players and the league following the divisive and contentious remarks made by President Trump, and was honored to be arm in arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during our anthem.”

New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers


Grant Halverson / Getty Images

Several New Orleans Saints players remained seated during the national anthem before their game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte on Sunday in defiance of the president’s comments. The Panthers stood on the field for the anthem—with one exception, defensive end Julius Peppers, who stayed in the locker room and emerged onto the field after the anthem was over.

DuncandHolder: RT MichaelDeMocker: Photo: Several #Saints sit for National Anthem in Carolina sports1280.ihear…

In the lead-up to their game against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, the New Orleans Saints released a statement calling Trump’s comments “disappointing and inappropriate.”

Tom Benson, the owner of the Saints and the New Orleans NBA team the Pelicans, is himself a veteran. The statement says that Benson supports and honors all military branches and “also believed that the very players that represent the Saints and Pelicans organizations should be allowed to share or express their feelings.”

“We believe strongly in honoring our flag and the national anthem and what it represents and we support our players. We all must strive to show that we are all Americans and continue to work towards equality for all,” the statement says.

Philadelphia Eagles v. New York Giants

Eagles standing with arms locked during the Anthem, owner Jeff Lurie on the field. Some Giants are kneeling; arms a… https://t.co/OX38Jj9Fo5

Most of the Philadelphia Eagles appeared to link arms during the anthem, and were joined on the field by team owner Jeff Lurie.

Several Giants players took a knee and also linked arms.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Chicago Bears


Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers chose not to be on the field during the national anthem ahead of their Sunday game against the Chicago Bears, who stood on the field and linked arms during the anthem.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told CBS told the NFL on CBS the team would not be on the field during the anthem “to remove ourselves from the circumstance.”

“We’re not going to play politics. We’re football players, we’re football coaches,” Tomlin said. “We’re not participating in the anthem today. Not to be disrespectful to the anthem, to remove ourselves from the circumstance. People shouldn’t have to choose.”

One player, Alejandro Villanueva, a veteran, came out alone during the anthem.

The Chicago Bears were on the field during the anthem, most players with their arms linked. Before the game, the team released a statement supporting players who chose to protest.


Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

“What makes this the greatest country in the world are the liberties it was founded upon and the freedom to express oneself in a respectful and peaceful manner,” the statement said.

Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots

New England Patriots players linked arms, some of them kneeling, during the national anthem before their Sunday game against the Houston Texans.

Star quarterback Tom Brady, who has publicly said he’s a friend of Trump’s, stood linking arms with a teammate.

Earlier in the day Brady posted a photo on Instagram with the caption, “Strength. Passion. Love. Brotherhood. Team. Unity. Commitment. Dedication. Determination. Respect. Loyalty. Work. #nflplayer”

New England Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft, a businessman and friend of the president’s, said on Saturday that he was “disappointed” with Trump’s comments.

“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the president on Friday,” Kraft wrote in a statement.

“Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”

Miami Dolphins vs. New York Jets

The New York Jets, joined by their chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson, stood with linked arms during the anthem before their game against the Miami Dolphins in New Jersey on Sunday.

Johnson is the younger brother of Woody Johnson, who owns the Jets and was appointed by Trump to be the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom earlier this year.

Christopher Johnson issued a statement after the game saying, “It was an honor and a privilege to stand arm-in-arm unified with our players during today’s National Anthem.”

Dolphins players also linked arms during the anthem, and several were seen wearing “I’m With Kap” t-shirts while warming up for the game.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Minnesota Vikings


Brad Rempel / USA Today Sports

Minnesota Vikings players linked arms with their general manager Rick Spielman and team owners Mark and Zygi Wilf during the national anthem before their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. The Wilfs released a statement before the game supporting their players’ right to protest.

“As owners, it is our job to foster an environment that recognizes and appreciates diversity of thought and encourages using this platform in a constructive manner,” the statement said.

Several Tampa Bay Buccaneers players stood and linked arms during the anthem, while two of their team mates, Mike Evans and Desean Jackson, dropped to one knee.

.@TBBuccaneers wide receivers @MikeEvans13_ and @DeSeanJackson11 kneel during the national anthem before kickoff ag… https://t.co/iJg75kJEtj

Before the game, Buccaneers co-chairman Joel Glazer issued a statement supporting players’ right to protest. “As we have stated previously, the Buccaneers recognize every individual’s constitutional right to freedom of speech,” the statement said.

Cleveland Browns vs. Indianapolis Colts


Thomas J. Russo / USA Today Sports

The Cleveland Browns linked arms during the national anthem ahead of their game against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, with several players also kneeling.

Colts owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam wrote in a statement before the game that they support their players’ right to protest and use their platform to create dialogue around social issues.

“Our players, just like so many others across our league, have been honest and thoughtful with their attempt to bring awareness to the issues of inequality and social injustice,” the statement said. “We were incredibly moved by the meaningful and powerful dialogue they initiated within our organization when they spoke of their intent to unify and not be disrespectful while using familiar and important terms like one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. Their intent is to create positive and unifying change and that was demonstrated well by the unity they led prior to our home opener.”

The Indianapolis Colts also linked arms, with several players taking a knee as well.


Brian Spurlock / USA Today Sports

Colts owner Jim Irsay said in a statement on Saturday that he was “troubled by the President’s recent comments about our league and our players.”

Atlanta Falcons vs. Detroit Lions


Leon Halip / Getty Images

Members of the Atlanta Falcons, joined by team owner Arthur Blank, linked arms during the national anthem before their game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Two players, Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe, knelt.

Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe kneel during national anthem today while the team locked arms. #NFL #ATL… https://t.co/lHgPjBjWlp

On Saturday, Blank issued a statement supporting players’ right to protest. “We are at our very best when we are working together, building unity and including everyone’s voice in a constructive dialogue,” the statement said.

Most of the Detroit Lions linked arms or took a knee during the national anthem with their team owner, Martha Ford, present on the sidelines in a show of support.


Raj Mehta / USA Today Sports

Ford said in a statement before the game, “Our game has long provided a powerful platform for dialogue and positive change in many communities throughout our nation.”

“Thanks primarily to our players, the NFL also has been a unifying force in our country and impactful change has and hopefully will continue to be the result of peaceful expression, done so in order to highlight social injustices of all kind.

“Negative and disrespectful comments suggesting otherwise are contrary to the founding principles of our country, and we do not support those comments or opinions.”

Denver Broncos vs. Buffalo Bills


Mark Konezny / USA Today Sports

Many Denver Broncos players took a knee during the anthem before their game against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, with all players linking arms.

Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis expressed support for players in a statement on Saturday evening.

“Our players have shown a tremendous commitment to raising awareness for important societal issues by using their platform in a positive way,” the statement said.

“We could not be more proud, appreciative and grateful for our players.”

A statement from President/CEO Joe Ellis:… https://t.co/DlIi0OzUTr

Members of the Buffalo Bills knelt during the anthem, while others stood, some leaning down with their hands on the shoulders of their kneeling team mates.

The team tweeted footage from moment of the anthem and shared photos with the caption “One family.”

Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula released a statement leading up to the game, saying that the players “have the freedom to express themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner.”

Seattle Seahawks vs. Tennessee Titans

Surreal scene here in Nashville as entire #Seahawks, Titans teams including coaches, staff, all players skip nation… https://t.co/6OJfUC4yie

Both teams said they would not come out for the national anthem, leading to a strange scene where none of the players were on the field for the song.

The Seahawks, in perhaps the most direct statement of protest from any NFL team so far, said they decided not to come out because they “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,” the statement said.

The Titans released a statement saying the decision was made by their team’s players.

“As a team, we wanted to be unified in our actions today. The players jointly decided this was the best course of action,” the statement said. “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.”

Megan Lindsey, who sang the anthem at LP Field in Nashville, took a knee at the end of her performance.

St. Louis Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers

Los Angeles Rams owner and chairman E. Stanley Kroenke said in a statement that the team supports its players’ right to protest and that the team “is committed to celebrating diversity, inclusion and respect”.

“We will continue to support our players’ freedom to peacefully express themselves and the meaningful efforts they make to bring about positive change in our country,” he said in the statement.

The game was played on Thursday night, before Trump’s comments.

Remy Smidt is a reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Remy Smidt at remy.smidt@buzzfeed.com.

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