At the start of Sunday’s first NFL game, members of the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars sent a powerful message as the majority stood linking arms, while a number of others took a knee in response to President Trump’s tweet urging fans to boycott the sport until owners “fire or suspend” players who protest during the national anthem.
Ravens Coach John Harbaugh joined his players, linking arms, and Ravens Hall of Famer Ray Lewis took a knee. Jaguars owner Shahid Khan locked arms with his players and coaches. Khan, who donated to Trump’s inaugural committee, is believed to be the second owner to participate in events related to anthem protests. Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam stood on field and locked arms with players, military personnel and first responders in Week 1 of the 2017 season.
One Ravens player stood alone, but seemed to be in prayer. All players appeared to stand for the playing of the British anthem, “God Save the Queen.”
Ravens and Jaguars players come together in a display of unity before kickoff in London. pic.twitter.com/dy8JDzOBas
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) September 24, 2017
The game, in London, kicked off at 9:30 a.m. EDT offered the first visible response to Trump’s Sunday morning messages.
“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country,” he tweeted, “you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”
Trump went on to add that “NFL attendance and ratings [are] WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.”
That continues a Friday night tirade in which President Trump used a profanity to describe NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality and social inequality brought a torrent of responses from players, the NFL commissioner, the head of the NFL players’ union and more than a half-dozen owners. It brought condemnation from the NBA’s biggest stars and ensured that Sunday’s games will now focus on the White House.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural and presented him with a Super Bowl LI ring, said in a statement Sunday that he was “deeply disappointed by the tone” of Trump’s comments.
“I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities,” Kraft said. “Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger. There is no greater unifier in this country than sports and, unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”
Players to keep an eye on include the Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Bennett and his brother, Martellus, the Green Bay Packers’ tight end; the Philadelphia Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long; the Oakland Raiders’ Marshawn Lynch, who has the national stage in the “Sunday Night Football” game against the Washington Redskins.
Raiders offensive linemen, who comprise the only African-American unit in the league, plan to kneel or sit as a group, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports.
On Saturday, Martellus Bennett stated bluntly, “I’m ok with being fired for what I believe in.” Richard Sherman, his brother’s teammate in Seattle, tweeted: “The behavior of the president is unacceptable and needs to be addressed.”
A number of owners spoke up in defense of their players’ First Amendment rights. “Comments like we heard [Friday] night from the president are inappropriate, offensive and divisive,” Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch said in a joint statement. “We are proud of our players, the vast majority of whom use the NFL platform to make a positive difference in our society.”
Dolphins owner calls players who knelt for the anthem “smart young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone” pic.twitter.com/Edkbsapdbl
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) September 23, 2017
The comments appear to have done something previously unthinkable: uniting NFL players and owners. Early Sunday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith spoke on the telephone Saturday about how to approach Trump’s comments, but did not coordinate their response to them, according to one person close to the situation.
That person said the NFL office was not coordinating a league-wide on-field response Sunday.
A person on the players’ side said the on-field response Sunday is likely to be team by team rather than a league-wide effort coordinated by the union. But that was “still fluid” and it was “hard to relay what may or may not happen,” the person said.
“Whatever happens today, please be mindful and open to understanding the why,” George Atallah, the union’s assistant executive director of external affairs, wrote on Twitter.
Colin Kaepernick hasn’t spoken, but his mother sure did, telling Deadspin she had texted her sisters to relay Trump’s “son of a b—-” comment. “‘You’re not gonna believe this,’” she says she told them. “‘The president just called me a b—-.’ … We ended up making a lot of jokes about it and my one sister said, ‘Oh, gosh, next he’ll be calling you Rocket Mom.”
While no NFL athlete went as far as LeBron James, who called the president “a bum,” Trump ensured that teams spent Saturday deciding what, if anything, to do by tweeting yet again in the evening:
Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.Tell them to stand!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
That left players furious, with the Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman tweeting that he’d “never seen players this angry. Over anything.” The Buffalo Bills, the NFL Network’s Jeff Darlington added, were meeting to discuss the president’s comments.
Top Story Lines
Marshawn Lynch and the Raiders are ready for one last ride. Like The Post’s Kent Babb, you’re not invited.
Four NFL players push Roger Goodell for activism month. Will the NFL be more open to the idea of expanding “Cleats for a Cause” week?
The president has had a long, stormy relationship with football. The word “unrequited” describes Trump’s feelings for the NFL.
Chris Long of the Eagles makes a donation. The Charlottesville native is donating six game checks to fund scholarships after the violence there.
Trump turns sports into a political battleground. The NFL and the NBA were squarely in the president’s sights.
Did the NFL make a mistake in putting two teams in LA? Never mind Thursday night’s exciting game. The interest hasn’t sparked yet.
Keep an eye on Jared Goff’s emergence. The future of the Redskins’ Kirk Cousin may be affected by it.
The Giants, Seahawks and Texans need to fix their offensive lines. It’s already Week 3.
S’ua Cravens offers little clue about his future. Will he play again for the Redskins or has he really, truly retired?
The Redskins’ plan for the Raiders includes plenty of running plays. If it’s not broken, there’s no need to fix it.
Ravens wide receiver Jeremy Maclin left the London game against the Jaguars to be evaluated for a concussion, his status is not yet known.
Among the notable injuries in the afternoon games, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is banged up, but he is expected to play. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is also expected to play, despite a groin injury. Here’s the Sunday injury report for notable players, as of Friday:
Jordy Nelson (with Randall Cobb doubtful)
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