Some stood, some knelt, some sat, some stayed in the locker room, and one even stretched for the National Anthem during Sunday’s NFL games. Following comments made by President Donald Trump at a political rally in Alabama on Friday calling on NFL owners to fire any player who “disrespects our flag,” multiple teams in the organization came together on Sunday in one of the biggest displays of open protest.
The Ravens and Jaguars kicked off a long string of protests in London Sunday morning with 10 Ravens players—including Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Lardarius Webb—either taking a knee or standing with locked arms in solidarity in response to the president’s remarks.
“That’s a total disrespect of our heritage,” President Trump told supporters on Friday in Huntsville, Alabama. “That's a total disrespect of everything that we stand for. Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now.’”
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This was the first time any Ravens player protested—just as quarterback Colin Kaepernick did back in 2016 in protest against the treatment of African Americans in the United States.
Following the Ravens early game, a number of other NFL players followed suit by staying in the locker room during the Anthem, including members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, and Tennessee Titans. Trump responded to the series of protest on Twitter Sunday.
The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 25, 2017
Supporters of the protests insist the act is less about the American flag and National Anthem, and more about the right to exercise free speech and speak up about racial injustice.
“In nearly 25 years as a sports executive, and a lifetime spent as an American citizen, I have never been so appalled by the abusive blood lust of my country's highest governmental office, to defile my country's constitutional guarantees,” president of MASN Sports, John P. Angelos, wrote on Twitter. “Anti-American and anti-citizen abuse of [the Trump administration’s] power should be repudiated, protested, and legally opposed on every front."
However, opponents of the athletic protests believe their actions are unpatriotic and disrespectful to those who have served or are serving in the military. Locally, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler took to Facebook to express his anger with the Ravens franchise.
“The embarrassment that is the NFL continues and people wonder why I am on strike,” Gahler wrote. “Ravens join the nonsense of taking knee [sic] while on the soil of the country we gained our independence from. Will be doing a housecleaning of any Ravens merchandise later today and getting it all ready for the burn.”
There are many people in Baltimore that have mixed feelings about the protests that happened on the field Sunday, wondering if there is a way to simultaneously respect the right to free speech while also honoring the country and its veterans.
“Just a thought . . . what if every past, current, and future American military person chose to take a knee instead of fighting to keep our country safe and free?” Bar Liquorice owner Jeff Cahill posted on Facebook. “I do respect anyone's right to peacefully protest, but it has to be tempered with the respect for those who fought and lost their lives [my family included] in service to this country, which is what our flag and National Anthem symbolizes.”
The protests have also gone beyond the NFL, with Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry declining an invitation to visit The White House. President Trump then rescinded the invitation and Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers sounded off on Instagram. The ripple effect continued into the MLB when Oakland Athletics’ catcher Bruce Maxwell, who is from a military family, became the first baseball player in history to kneel during the National Anthem on Saturday.
Taking a knee is not without precedent Mr. President. Those who dared to protest have helped bring positive change pic.twitter.com/Ik0t1mHaYl— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) September 24, 2017
The weekend of protesting has caused a firestorm on a local level with a mixed bag of protests, support, boycotting, and championing. For Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti himself, he sees all of the dialogue as a reflection of democracy.
“We recognize our players’ influence,” he said. “We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent. All voices need to be heard. That’s democracy in its highest form.”