After President Donald Trump criticized NFL players for protesting police brutality during the national anthem, members of several NFL teams increased their pregame demonstrations in response.
The face-off between Trump and the NFL began Sept. 22, when Trump spoke in Alabama at a re-election event for Sen. Luther Strange. During his speech, Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!’”
Following Trump’s remarks, players from 26 NFL teams demonstrated in some way during pregame ceremonies. Some players protested by standing arm-in-arm, sometimes with team owners. Others remained seated on the bench or took a knee during the anthem.
A handful of teams, including the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans, meanwhile, refused to come out of their locker rooms before their game. The Seahawks released a statement beforehand, stating that, as a team, they would “not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country.” Meghan Linsey, who sang the national anthem at game, took a knee after her performance. Singer Rico Lavelle also took a knee after singing the anthem at the Detroit Lions’ and Atlanta Falcons’ game.
Colin Kaepernick started protesting police brutality in 2016 when he first knelt during the national anthem. Kaepernick said he refused to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” according to an interview with NFL Media.
Odell Beckham Jr., a wide receiver for the New York Giants, raised his right fist in the air after a touchdown, similar to the way black athletes protested in the ’60s. When asked by reporters if the move had any significance, Beckham said, “Did it look like it? Then it might have meant something.”
The protest is not limited to the NFL, though: Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell knelt during the national anthem before the team played against the Texas Rangers this past week. Maxwell said that his decision to protest during the national anthem has been a long time coming, and said, “To single out NFL players for doing this isn’t something we should be doing — I felt it should be a little more broad.” Maxwell is the first MLB player to demonstrate in this way.
For the most part, the owners of NFL teams are also reacting negatively to Trump’s statement in Alabama and his subsequent Tweets. Steve Bisciotti, the owner of the Ravens, said via Twitter that he supported the players’ demonstrations. “All voices need to be heard,” Bisciotti said. “That’s democracy in its highest form.”
Rich Eisen, one of the hosts of NFL GameDay Morning, ended the show’s broadcast by addressing the demonstrations and by speaking directly to Trump, saying, “What they are, are people offended by their American experience. … And this is a moment when they are taking a knee and when they are sitting down, they are doing so to spark a conversation, to spark a dialogue, which is the most democratic thing that can be done in this country.”
Trump responded to the weekend’s demonstrations on Twitter, saying, “If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”