NFL players responded in full force Sunday after President Trump repeatedly called for swift punishment against those who chose to protest by not standing during the national anthem.
Demonstrations spread throughout the league as many players broke out of their routine by joining the protests or engaging in team-wide displays of unity. The Associated Press estimated 204 players elected to either kneel or sit during the anthem.
Several players from the Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, New York Giants, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons were among those who chose not to stand for the anthem. The Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers, Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins stood with arms locked, though some players from those teams chose to kneel.
Included in the group of players who protested: Julius Peppers, who did not to join his Carolina Panthers teammates on the sideline; LeSean McCoy, who stretched during the anthem before the Bills game; and Adrian Peterson, who was one of several Saints players to remain seat.
Sixteen Patriots players took a knee during the anthem. Quarterback Tom Brady stood and locked arms with teammates.
In Sunday’s first game, several players from the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars either knelt or locked arms on their respective sidelines in solidarity during the national anthem at Wembley Stadium. Included among them was Jags owner Shahid Khan, who locked arms with tight end Mercedes Lewis and linebacker Telvin Smith.
Khan was one of seven owners to donate $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inauguration festivities. Also kneeling with Baltimore was former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
Owners Stephen Ross (Dolphins), Martha Ford (Lions), Jeffrey Lurie (Eagles), Christopher Johnson (Jets) and Dean Spanos (Chargers) also joined their respective teams during the anthem.
The Pittsburgh Steelers chose not to have players on the sideline during the anthem before a game against the Chicago Bears. The Seattle Seahawks and Tennesssee Titans followed suit in their game later in the afternoon.
A league executive told USA TODAY Sports that although players are required to be present for the national anthem, no fines would be handed down for those who were absent.
“We’re not going to play politics. We’re football players, we’re football coaches,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’re not participating in the anthem today – not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but to remove ourselves from the circumstance.
“People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something, he shouldn’t be separated from his teammate who chooses not to.”
Multiple members of the Dolphins wore shirts that read “#IMWITHKAP,” referencing former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, before their game against the New York Jets. Kaepernick, who began the protests last year by choosing not to stand during the anthem and remains a free agent, said he wanted to speak out against racial injustice and police brutality.
At a rally on Friday in Alabama, Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!”
Following the protests on Sunday, Trump backed the displays of unity but once again spoke out against those who chose to kneel.
Earlier on Sunday he said, “If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend! …NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.”
Players, commissioners and owners from multiple sports lashed out against the President over the weekend. The issue grew when Trump withdrew an invitation to the White House for the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, specifically pointing to star Steph Curry. Later, the college basketball national champion North Carolina Tar Heels said they would not visit the White House, citing scheduling conflicts.