Protests surface across NFL after Trump criticism

Jay Busbee

What began as a single backup quarterback kneeling during the national anthem in a preseason game has mushroomed in the past 13 months to a nationwide movement, one that’s spread from the football field to the White House and forced America to deal with questions of free speech and patriotism.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protests, designed to bring attention to racial injustice and police brutality, drew both praise and criticism throughout the 2016 season. But President Donald Trump ratched the conversation to a higher level on Friday night when he called for the firing of kneeling players. The NFL responded to Trump’s statement by defending its players, and Trump in turn shot back at the NFL over the course of several tweets, including two early Sunday morning:

That set the tone for what promised to be a memorable, provocative Sunday. Here’s a roundup of the protest events and comments that took place across the NFL:

• At the day’s very first game, a London showdown between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens, more than two dozen players knelt, as did Raven team leader Ray Lewis. Jaguars owner Shad Khan, a Trump supporter, locked arms with his team in a show of unity, as did Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

• Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers posted the following photo on Instagram:

#unity #brotherhood #family #dedication #love #

A post shared by Aaron Rodgers (@aaronrodgers12) on Sep 24, 2017 at 6:34am PDT

• Support for anthem protests wasn’t unanimous. Broncos DE Derek Wolfe took issue with the idea of protesting America:

• The Pittsburgh Steelers opted to sidestep the anthem entirely, staying in their locker room as a team to demonstrate unity.

• The Los Angeles Rams, whose owner Stan Kroenke is a Trump supporter, released a statement Sunday affirming their belief in their players’ “freedom to peacefully express themselves”:

• In the first wave of games, media on-site reported as much as half of the Denver Broncos kneeled on the sideline, while numerous members of the New Orleans Saints remained sitting. The Houston Texans locked arms in a show of unity on their sideline. The New York Giants locked arms, with several players taking a knee. The Carolina Panthers, meanwhile, stood during the anthem, while images captured several Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills players taking knees.

• Owners also took part in the demonstrations. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross locked arms with players on his sideline, and Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford stood close to head coach Jim Caldwell. Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie also locked arms with players as the anthem played, and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank stood on the sidelines among players as well.

• The Lions’ protest drew some boos:

• The New England Patriots entered the field following four servicemen carrying American flags. On the sideline, Tom Brady and other Patriots locked arms as the anthem played. Local media reported boos from the stadium both before and after the anthem.

• The Saints’ Brandon Coleman took solidarity one step further with his touchdown celebration:

• Trump responded to the protests by spinning them as a means of solidarity with the country, rather than against his statements, despite all evidence to the contrary:

• Both the Tennessee Titans and the Seattle Seahawks opted to remain in the locker room for their respective national anthems. The Seahawks, in particular, released the sharpest public statement on the protests to date, finally putting in direct relief what the protests are all about:

• The NFL told several outlets that it is not going to pursue fines against the three teams (so far) that have not come out onto the field for the anthem, even though NFL regulations state that all teams must be on the field for anthems.

• Late in the day, Trump insisted that his dissatisfaction with the protests had nothing to do with race, despite the fact that the protests themselves are entirely rooted in racial discrimination:

• Many fans expressed their loud dissatisfaction with the anthem protesters, and boos were evident at stadiums across the league. However, one former Raven chose an unconventional method for dealing with complaining fans: offering to buy their season tickets.

• The entire Oakland Raiders offensive line sat during the anthem before their Sunday night game, while the Washington Redskins locked arms on the sideline. The Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals are the only two teams left to play, and they have not yet publicly decided on whether or how they will protest.

• Bills safety Lorenzo Alexander provided perhaps the most succinct distillation possible of the reasons for the protest. This is a must-watch:

Baltimore Ravens players, including former player Ray Lewis, second from right, kneel during the playing of the U.S. national anthem before an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London. (AP)
Baltimore Ravens players, including former player Ray Lewis, second from right, kneel during the playing of the U.S. national anthem before an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London. (AP)

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.