Protests surface across NFL after Trump criticism

By Jay Busbee

What began as a single backup quarterback kneeling during the national anthem in a preseason game has mushroomed in the past 13 months to a nationwide movement, one that’s spread from the football field to the White House and forced America to deal with questions of free speech and patriotism.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protests, designed to bring attention to racial injustice and police brutality, drew both praise and criticism throughout the 2016 season. But President Donald Trump ratched the conversation to a higher level on Friday night when he called for the firing of kneeling players. The NFL responded to Trump’s statement by defending its players, and Trump in turn shot back at the NFL over the course of several tweets, including two early Sunday morning.

• The Pittsburgh Steelers opted to sidestep the anthem entirely, staying in their locker room as a team to demonstrate unity.

• The Los Angeles Rams, whose owner Stan Kroenke is a Trump supporter, released a statement Sunday affirming their belief in their players’ “freedom to peacefully express themselves”:

• In the first wave of games, media on-site reported as much as half of the Denver Broncos kneeled on the sideline, while numerous members of the New Orleans Saints remained sitting. The Houston Texans locked arms in a show of unity on their sideline. The New York Giants locked arms, with several players taking a knee. The Carolina Panthers, meanwhile, stood during the anthem, while images captured several Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills players taking knees.

• Owners also took part in the demonstrations. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross locked arms with players on his sideline, and Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford stood close to head coach Jim Caldwell. Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie also locked arms with players as the anthem played, and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank stood on the sidelines among players as well.

• The New England Patriots entered the field following four servicemen carrying American flags. On the sideline, Tom Brady and other Patriots locked arms as the anthem played. Local media reported boos from the stadium both before and after the anthem.

• The Saints’ Brandon Coleman took solidarity one step further with his touchdown celebration.

• Trump responded to the protests by spinning them as a means of solidarity with the country, rather than against his statements, despite all evidence to the contrary.

• Both the Tennessee Titans and the Seattle Seahawks opted to remain in the locker room for their respective national anthems. The Seahawks, in particular, released the sharpest public statement on the protests to date.

• The NFL told several outlets that it is not going to pursue fines against the three teams (so far) that have not come out onto the field for the anthem, even though NFL regulations state that all teams must be on the field for anthems.

Read more: Americas Victims of Free Speech

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