Actions occurred at virtually every stadium where NFL games were played. Three teams — the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans — stayed off the field while the anthem was sung. A league official said teams that did so wouldn’t face fines, though NFL rules say they could.
Such protests began a year ago when Colin Kaepernick — at the time quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers — refused to stand during the national anthem to demonstrate opposition to racial discrimination and cop killings of Blacks and others around the country. He won support among several league players who took similar action.
Since then owners have refused to hire Kaepernick, who led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013, but was dropped by team owners after last season. Prior to their game on Sunday, some Miami Dolphins players wore black T-shirts with “#IMWITHKAP” on the front, a show of support for Kaepernick.
Anthem singers take a kneeSome of the performers who sang the anthem at league games got into the act. In Detroit, recording artist Rico Lavelle performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the Lions game with the Atlanta Falcons. As he got to the final words “home of the…,” he took a knee, raised his fist and belted out “brave” to end the anthem. Three hours later in Seattle, singer Meghan Linsey also knelt at the end.
In Foxboro, Massachusetts, more than a dozen players and coaches of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots knelt or linked arms, including quarterback Tom Brady, who had supported the campaign of Donald Trump.
The protest spread to Game 1 of the Women’s National Basketball Association finals, with the Los Angeles Sparks leaving the court to skip the anthem, while the home team Minnesota Lynx locked arms along the free-throw line in front of their bench. And in baseball, Oakland Athletics rookie Bruce Maxwell became the first Major League player to kneel during the national anthem.
Others joined in solidarity. In Missouri, 97-year-old World War II veteran and farmer John Middlemas also took a knee, tweeting, “Those kids have every right to protest.” Actor Ed Asner, 87, tweeted, “I am taking a knee on Sunday. I might need someone to help me up.”
On Sept. 25 President Trump said that fans should boycott the football games if the protests continue.
Many op-ed pundits tried to twist Trump’s tweets to fit into a more far-reaching charge promoted by many liberals and all of the middle-class left that the president is an unreconstructed white supremacist. The day after the games, New York Times columnist Charles Blow called Trump a “race fiend” and said, “Trumpism is becoming ever more synonymous with racism.”
As an alternative to protesting football players, President Trump praised the car-racing organization NASCAR, pointing to some team owner’s statements that they would fire drivers if they wouldn’t stand up for the anthem. But NASCAR racing star Dale Earnhardt Jr. disagreed. “All Americans R granted rights 2 peaceful protests,” he tweeted. “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable — JFK.”
Some media tried to make something of the fact that one member of the Steelers, Alejandro Villanueva, the starting left tackle and an Army Ranger who did three tours of duty in Afghanistan, did come about five feet out onto the field during the anthem in Pittsburgh.
But Villanueva has expressed solidarity with Kaepernick. “I will be the first to hold hands with Colin Kaepernick and do something about the way minorities are being treated in the United States, the injustice that is happening with police brutality, the justice system, inequalities in pay,” he told ESPN.
One thing all this shows clearly is the powerful impact the mass Black-led movement that overthrew Jim Crow segregation made on the U.S. There is less racism here than anytime in the country’s history.
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