Ever since San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick chose to sit out the national anthem during a preseason game earlier this month, several other athletes have come forward to join him in protest.
Kaepernick began kneeling during the “Star-Spangled Banner” in an act of protest against police brutality and racial injustice in America. Now others are following suit. This weekend, players from the Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos, among other NFL teams, staged their own demonstrations by locking arms in a display of unity, taking a knee with their heads bowed or boldly raising a fist high into the air.
Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane took a page out of Kaepernick’s book and sat during the singing of the national anthem last week. The lone player’s protest was soon turned into an en masse demonstration, as Seahawks team members interlocked arms during the anthem at their season-opener Sunday. Their undivided stance fell on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“It was on a unified front,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin told ESPN. “We wanted to do something together as a team. The statement that we’re making is obviously we want to honor those lives that have been lost 15 years ago on this tragic day and also honor those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom that we cherish.”
“We want to ensure that freedom and the security of justice for all people,” he continued. “It’s a situation for us where you’ve heard us. The message is very clear, you’ve heard us. Now we’re asking you to listen to our message.”
Critics blasted the team for their demonstration, calling it an “act of political cowardice” and an insult to Kaepernick’s protest.
“The Seahawks players, with this misguided and ahistorical ‘demonstration’ might as well paint #AllLivesmatter on their helmets and tie puppet strings to their arms,” Morgan State University political science professor Jason Johnson wrote in a piece for The Root. “Because it’s so on the fence, this action will disappoint NFL fans who favor social change, offend ‘Respect the Flag’ advocates, enrage those #BasketofDeplorables who hate any activism from Black athletes and, ultimately, muddle the real issues of police brutality in America.”
NewsOne Now anchor Roland Martin was also quick to call out the Seattle team for their so-called nod to the “All Lives Matter” movement.
Nope. It's about shifting the conversation. No different than All Lives Matter. Nice try. I ain't biting https://t.co/msgphjbuvc
— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) September 11, 2016
Players from the Seahawks’ opponents, the Miami Dolphins, chose a different approach. According to ESPN.com, Dolphins running back Arian Foster planned to take a knee and raise his fist during the singing of the anthem. Foster ultimately forewent the raised fist and simply kneeled alongside his teammates Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas and Jelani Jenkins. The running back told reporters that he and other Dolphins players met Friday and agreed to make their own decisions on how handle the anthem, the news site reports.
“We encourage all members of our organization to stand at attention during the national anthem out of respect and appreciation for the freedoms we are afforded as Americans. We also recognize that it’s an individual’s right to reflect during the anthem in different ways,” the Dolphins said in a statement. “We hope today’s events will continue a respectful and thoughtful dialogue in our community on unity, inclusiveness and togetherness.”
The list of demonstrations doesn’t end there. Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall also took a knee during the anthem at Friday’s game against the Carolina Panthers. Marshall has since lost a sponsorship deal with the Air Academy Federal Credit Union for his actions, according to a statement released by the banking institution Friday. The linebacker told reporters he plans to continue his protest going forward.
In a stance similar to that of Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympic Games, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters threw his glove-clad fist into the air during the national anthem. Meanwhile, his teammates locked arms in a display of solidarity.
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) September 12, 2016
New England Patriots players Devin McCourty and Martellus Bennett also raised their fists in a stance against racial injustice.
“I’m Black. I love being Black, and I’m supporting Colin as far as what he’s doing as far as raising awareness of the justice system,” Peters told reporters Sunday. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I locked arms with my teammates. I talked to coach. Coach said it was OK if I wanted to express my thoughts about what I wanted to do.”
“We need to continue to meet as a team,” he added. “I’ll continue to do some things on my own back at home. We’ll try to further help this problem. It’s not going to do us no good if you all rush us talking about the same thing over and over.”
Kaepernick has since expressed gratitude for the overwhelming amount of support he’s received, adding that he didn’t expect so many players to follow him in protest of racial oppression and other social issues in the U.S. He also noted that the negative reactions from such demonstrations could be holding others back, which he understands.
“I think it’s something that there’s a lot of players that really feel the same way,” Kaepernick said. “They’re just nervous about consequences that come along with it, and a lot of them have families to feed, and I think that’s a tragic situation where players aren’t comfortable speaking what’s on their mind and what’s right because they’re afraid of consequences that come along with it. That’s not an ideal environment for anybody.”
The star quarterback has repeatedly asserted that he is not anti-military, but simply wants to shed light on the injustices experienced by people of color in America. It’s clear that his fellow NFL players hope to do the same.