NFL players across the country sent a powerful message to President Trump, responding to his speech and latest tweet urging owners to “fire or suspend” players who protest by not standing for the national anthem.
The nationwide display was one the president praised in a midafternoon tweet, in which he stated that “Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!”
Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
The day of demonstrations began in London, with the 9:30 a.m. EDT kickoff between the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars and they only intensified as the 1 p.m. games arrived. Most vivid was the sight of the empty Pittsburgh Steelers sideline in Chicago. Coach Mike Tomlin preferred to keep his players in the locker room altogether.
— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) September 24, 2017
Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, chose to stand at the head of the tunnel leading onto the field rather than remain in the locker room. Although Tomlin and several members of the staff were on the field, the team remained inside.
Both the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans followed the Steelers’ example. The Seahawks said in a statement: “As a team, we have decided we will not participate i the national anthem. We 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 that would deny our most basic freedoms. We remain committed in continuing to work towards equality and justice for all.”
Scenes from Titans-Seahawks from Fox feed. pic.twitter.com/KI8bY9FWZn
— Mike Hume (@MikeHumePost) September 24, 2017
The scene was a little different in Gillette Stadium, where a few New England Patriots players took a knee and fans booed and chanted “Stand Up!”
Boos and chants of “Stand up!” As the anthem begins with a few Patriots taking a knee in front of bench.
— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) September 24, 2017
— Liam Martin (@LiamWBZ) September 24, 2017
In Philadelphia, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie stood on the sideline during the anthem and safety Malcolm Jenkins, as he always does, raised his fist. Eagles players linked arms as did Giants players across the field.
Three Giants — Landon Collins, Snacks Harrison and Olivier Vernon — knelt for the anthem, as their teammates & coaches linked arms.
— Judy Battista (@judybattista) September 24, 2017
In London, before the start of the day’s first NFL game, Ravens Coach John Harbaugh joined his players, linking arms, and Ravens Hall of Famer Ray Lewis took a knee. Jaguars owner Shahid Khan locked arms with his players and the Jaguars’ coaches. Khan, who donated to Trump’s inaugural committee, is believed to be the second owner to participate in events related to anthem protests. Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam stood on field and locked arms with players, military personnel and first responders in Week 1 of the 2017 season.
Ravens and Jaguars players come together in a display of unity before kickoff in London. pic.twitter.com/dy8JDzOBas
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) September 24, 2017
In Detroit, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank joined his players on the field.
Another NFL owner, Arthur Blank of the Atlanta Falcons, linking arms with players pre-game. pic.twitter.com/tcest19RTB
— Richard Chambers (@newschambers) September 24, 2017
The game in London offered the first visible response to Trump’s Sunday morning messages.
“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country,” Trump tweeted at 6:44 a.m., “you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”
Trump went on to add that “NFL attendance and ratings [are] WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.”
That continued a Friday night tirade in which President Trump used a profanity to describe NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality and social inequality brought a torrent of responses from players, the NFL commissioner, the head of the NFL players’ union and more than a half-dozen owners. It brought condemnation from the NBA’s biggest stars and ensured that Sunday’s games will now focus on the White House.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural and presented him with a Super Bowl LI ring, said in a statement Sunday that he was “deeply disappointed by the tone” of Trump’s comments.
“I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities,” Kraft said. “Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger. There is no greater unifier in this country than sports and, unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. 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.”
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin defended Trump’s comments, saying that players “have the right to have their First Amendment off the field. This is a job.”
On ABC, Mnuchin forcefully defends POTUS NFL comments: “They have the right to have their First Amendment off the field. This is a job.”
— Sean Sullivan (@WaPoSean) September 24, 2017
The Raiders’ starting offensive linemen, who comprise the only African-American unit in the league, plan to kneel or sit as a group Sunday night, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports. They have the full support of owner Mark Davis, who told ESPN: “Over the last year … the streets have gotten hot and there has been a lot of static in the air and recently, fuel has been added to the fire. I can no longer ask our team to not say something while they are in a Raider uniform. The only thing I can ask them to do is do it with class. Do it with pride. Not only do we have to tell people there is something wrong, we have to come up with answers. That’s the challenge in front of us as Americans and human beings.”
On Saturday, players reacted quickly. Martellus Bennett stated bluntly, “I’m ok with being fired for what I believe in.” Richard Sherman, his brother’s teammate in Seattle, tweeted: “The behavior of the president is unacceptable and needs to be addressed.”
A number of owners spoke up in defense of their players’ First Amendment rights. “Comments like we heard [Friday] night from the president are inappropriate, offensive and divisive,” Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch said in a joint statement. “We are proud of our players, the vast majority of whom use the NFL platform to make a positive difference in our society.”
Dolphins owner calls players who knelt for the anthem “smart young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone” pic.twitter.com/Edkbsapdbl
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) September 23, 2017
The comments appear to have done something previously unthinkable: uniting NFL players and owners. Early Sunday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith spoke on the telephone Saturday, but did not coordinate their response to them, according to one person close to the situation.
Colin Kaepernick hasn’t spoken, but his mother sure did, telling Deadspin she had texted her sisters to relay Trump’s “son of a b—-” comment. “‘You’re not gonna believe this,’” she says she told them. “‘The president just called me a b—-.’ … We ended up making a lot of jokes about it and my one sister said, ‘Oh, gosh, next he’ll be calling you Rocket Mom.”
While no NFL athlete went as far as LeBron James, who called the president “a bum,” Trump ensured that teams spent Saturday deciding what, if anything, to do by tweeting yet again in the evening:
Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.Tell them to stand!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
Top Story Lines
Marshawn Lynch and the Raiders are ready for one last ride. Like The Post’s Kent Babb, you’re not invited.
Four NFL players push Roger Goodell for activism month. Will the NFL be more open to the idea of expanding “Cleats for a Cause” week?
The president has had a long, stormy relationship with football. The word “unrequited” describes Trump’s feelings for the NFL.
Chris Long of the Eagles makes a donation. The Charlottesville native is donating six game checks to fund scholarships after the violence there.
Trump turns sports into a political battleground. The NFL and the NBA were squarely in the president’s sights.
Did the NFL make a mistake in putting two teams in LA? Never mind Thursday night’s exciting game. The interest hasn’t sparked yet.
Keep an eye on Jared Goff’s emergence. The future of the Redskins’ Kirk Cousin may be affected by it.
The Giants, Seahawks and Texans need to fix their offensive lines. It’s already Week 3.
S’ua Cravens offers little clue about his future. Will he play again for the Redskins or has he really, truly retired?
The Redskins’ plan for the Raiders includes plenty of running plays. If it’s not broken, there’s no need to fix it.
Ravens wide receiver Jeremy Maclin left the London game against the Jaguars to be evaluated for a concussion, but later returned to the game. Kelvin Benjamin left the Panthers’ game against the Saints and did not return after sustaining a leg injury.
Panthers’ Kelvin Benjamin helped off after going down awkwardly pic.twitter.com/gQ8Q7t0B6O
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 24, 2017
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