LONDON – At least 24 NFL players knelt and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan stood with arms linked between two of his players in a sign of solidarity during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” here at Wembley Stadium Sunday.
All players stood for “God Save the Queen,” the national anthem of Great Britain where the Baltimore-Jacksonville game is being played.
It was the largest such protest since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting and then kneeling during the anthem last year to protest violence by police officers against African Americans.
This was the first NFL game played since President Trump called for protesting players to be “fired” and urged fans to boycott the NFL. Trump was speaking at a rally Friday in Alabama. He has since taken to Twitter to escalate his rhetoric.
“If you see [a player protest], even if it’s one player, leave the stadium, Trump said Friday. “I guarantee things will stop. Just pick up and leave.”
It did not appear any fans left the stadium. Likewise, neither Baltimore nor Jacksonville announced the firing of any players prior to kickoff.
The protest Sunday included at least 14 Jaguars, including star rookie running back Leonard Fournette. At least 10 Ravens also linked arms and knelt, including linebacker Terrell Suggs.
Trump’s comments have elicited widespread condemnation across the NFL, with players, coaches, commissioner Roger Goodell, union executive director DeMaurice Smith and even owners saying his comments were unnecessarily divisive and defending players’ right to protest.
That even included New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a close friend of Trump’s who was one of eight NFL owners who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration fund.
“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President,” Kraft said in a statement.
Khan also donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration but by standing with arms locked between Telvin Smith and Marcedes Lewis, his actions Sunday appeared to be a clear indication he supports his employees and their right to express themselves on the job.
“It was a privilege,” Khan said of his decision to show solidarity with his players. “I met with our team captains prior to the game to express my support for them, all NFL players and the league following the divisive and contentious remarks made by President Trump, and was honored to be arm in arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during our anthem.
“Our team and the National Football League reflects our nation, with diversity coming in many forms – race, faith, our views and our goals. We have a lot of work to do, and we can do it, but the comments by the President make it harder. That’s why it was important for us, and personally for me, to show the world that even if we may differ at times, we can and should be united in the effort to become better as people and a nation.”
The game is the first of the NFL’s annual international series that will feature four games here in London and one in Mexico City.