Anthem protests and September 11 to collide

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  • Colin Kaepernick
    Colin Kaepernick
    American football quarterback

Washington (AFP) - Colin Kaepernick's controversial decision to not stand for the US national anthem before NFL games could gain support when most teams open the season on Sunday -- the 15th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The San Francisco 49ers quarterback sat or kneeled for "The Star-Spangled Banner" during exhibition games to protest treatment of African Americans after an off-season of shootings of unarmed black men by police and killings of police officers in response.

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick said, as his actions triggered a firestorm.

On Thursday night, Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall refused to stand while the American anthem played during the Broncos' season-opening game against the Carolina Panthers. No other players joined in the protest.

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane and international soccer player Megan Rapinoe also kneeled during the US anthem recently in support of Kaepernick's message.

The National Women's Soccer League's Washington Spirit played the US anthem before Seattle's Rapinoe and other players took the field Wednesday to avoid giving her another chance to kneel.

The Seahawks spoke of sending a message as a team before their season opener Sunday at home against Miami, but the notion of disrespecting the US flag on September 11 had players rethinking what they might do.

"To express a desire to bring people together, our team will honor the country and flag in a pre-game demonstration of unity," Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin tweeted.

But the lack of specifics left open a range of options for actions that could spark controversy as Kaepernick did.

Baldwin said Sunday's September 11 factor needs to be in the thoughts of anyone planning a protest move this weekend.

"Even if it wasn't September 11, the point of the protest is to get people to think," Baldwin said.

"It's very ironic that 15 years ago on September 11 is one of the most devastating in US history and after that day we were probably the most unified that we've ever been. And today you struggle to see the unity.

"It's going to be a special day, a very significant day, but at the same time I think I'm looking forward to the many better changes that we can make in our country."

- 'Coming together' -

The deeply sensitive issue evokes memories of December 2014 when five members of the St. Louis Rams, who moved back to Los Angeles after last season, used pre-game introductions to run onto the field in the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" pose -- a nod to the fatal shooting of black teen Michael Brown by a white policeman.

"Whatever we decide to do will be a surprise," Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "Anything we want to do, it's not going to be individual. It's going to be a team thing. That's what the world needs to see. The world needs to see people coming together versus being individuals."

Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who has called for more outspoken behavior from such NFL stars as Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, said Lane and Kaepernick symbolize a growing message nationwide.

"I think there are definitely some issues in America that a lot of people are starting to recognize," Bennett said.

"I think people have recognized them before but I think with social media and the things that are going on out there, the media outlets, everybody has a chance to really show what is going on and their ideas and having a chance to really protest what they think is wrong with America, and that's OK.

"It's about people having that right to have their voice heard."