FOXBORO — Brandin Cooks’ day began with him and some 15 of his New England Patriots teammates being roundly booed by the Gillette Stadium masses.
It ended with a few words to a gathering of sportswriters that illustrate he has more love for his country in his big toe than Donald Trump could summon in a lifetime of fiery speeches and late-night tweets.
We begin with a symbolic gesture, which was so very simple: As popular local tenor Fran Rogers was performing the national anthem prior to yesterday’s Patriots-Houston Texans game at Gillette Stadium, Cooks and some of his teammates chose to exercise their constitutional right to take a knee.
The players, and hundreds of others around the National Football League, were responding to the latest bombast from our president, who apparently was out sick the day his fourth-grade teacher discussed civics. Trump wants players who kneel for the national anthem to be “fired,” and to heck with that pesky Bill of Rights business about freedom of expression.
So the players, almost all of them black, took a knee.
But while commentators, coaches and even then owners of NFL franchises voiced support for the players, there were enough disapproving fans in attendance at Gillette Stadium yesterday to make it very clear they’d like their Patriots to be, you know, patriots. They want them to stand for the anthem. Those who did not stand were booed.
Devin McCourty? Booed. Malcolm Butler? Booed. James White? Booed.
Yet the twist to all this was that by end of the day, as Tom Brady engineered yet another improbable, game-saving touchdown drive, it was Cooks, a first-year member of the Patriots, who caught the 25-yard touchdown pass that powered New England to a 36-33 victory over the Texans.
Hell of a play, too. Cooks made the catch in the end zone and then turned his entire body to his right to keep both feet in bonds — including that patriotic, USA-loving big toe.
And Gillette Stadium went nuts, cheering for Brady and for the talented receiver who had the good sense to keep both feet in bounds.
Later, speaking to the media, Cooks performed another neat trick: He reduced Trump to rubble without even mentioning his name.
“It was one if those things where you want to stand with your brothers, in a sense, kneel with your brothers and be by their side,” he said. “A lot of people think we were disrespecting the flag and the military but my father was a Marine and my uncle was a Marine.”
He was only 6 when his father, Worth Cooks Sr., died of a heart attack. As for his uncle Lanny, he served in Vietnam. No way is Brandin Cooks going to step on the military service of these two men.
“I have the utmost respect for the men and women that fight for our freedom,” he said. “So that’s the first statement I want to make. Quite frankly, I feel conflicted in a sense because I have no courage to be able to do something like that. So I understand the magnitude that they’re fighting across the world for our freedom. So that’s not the message we’re sending.
“The message,” he said, “is we just want respect and unity and there’s only so many ways you can do it.”
They are happy for your support. They can live with your booing. Cooks can, anyway. Asked how he felt about being booed for taking a knee during the national anthem and then being cheered for making the big game-winning touchdown catch, he said, “I love ’em. I love my neighbor. That’s what the Lord said to do, right?”
Looking back on it, was Cooks glad he joined his teammates in taking a knee?
“Absolutely,” he said. Returning to the military theme, he said, “I have history there,” and, “I have good friends who are still there … I would never disrespect them.
“Whatever you see from the outside is whatever you want to say about it,” he said. “But I know how my heart feels about it.”
Yesterday, Pats owner Robert Kraft offered the tinny statement that he was “disappointed” by Trump’s remarks. Brady settled for locking arms with teammates during the anthem, explaining later that he has “great love for my teammates.” Pats coach Bill Belichick said he only wanted to talk about the game, adding that “we’ll deal with that later.”
In the here and now, 16 members of the Patriots rose up to teach the president what freedom of expression is all about.
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