ORCHARD PARK, New York (AP) — Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly has tempered his criticism of NFL players protesting during the national anthem after being accused by Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes for attempting to divide the team.
"I want to be clear that I agree with the reason some NFL players have chosen to peacefully protest and appreciate players, coaches and organizations being unified," Kelly said in a statement sent by text to The Associated Press late Monday Night.
"I would hope that while we all, myself included, may not agree with using the national anthem as the appropriate forum for such display, we should continue to strive to work through these issues with great respect for each other," he added, before closing with "God Bless."
Kelly said he issued the statement to clarify remarks he made on his weekly show on Buffalo's WGRF-Radio earlier in the day.
In saying he disagreed with any player not standing during the anthem, Kelly singled out the Bills' LeSean McCoy after the star running back sat on the turf and stretched while the "Star Spangled Banner" was performed before Buffalo's home game against Denver.
"I like LeSean McCoy, don't get me wrong, but that totally 100 percent I disagree with what he did," Kelly said. "You want to kneel? Fine. But when you do what he did yesterday, that sort of bummed me out and I lost a lot of respect for that man."
The comments upset Hughes in part because Kelly stood with the team while the anthem was being played.
"I was very disappointed in him," Hughes said. "It was not cool, very unacceptable. And if he has things to stay about us as a team, come talk to us."
Hughes added Kelly should have approached the team with his concerns and shouldn't have been standing alongside the Bills on the field during the anthem if he had issues with the protest.
Kelly told The AP he exchanged texts with McCoy, and has also had a constructive conversation with Hughes.
McCoy took his place at the far end of a line of Bills players and coaches, who stood about 10 yards on the field as the anthem began.
Kelly was at the opposite end of the line, and stood for the anthem with his right hand over his heart while holding up a Bills cap in his left hand.
In his clarification, Kelly wrote: "Yesterday we saw how passionate players are in regards to the peaceful protests that occurred in many NFL stadiums, including New Era Field where I was in attendance."
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