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NFL Players Protest during National Anthem

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Denver Broncos tight end Virgil Green (85) raises his fist in protest as teammate Max Garcia, left, takes a knee during the national anthem prior to an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills this season. Photo: Adrian Kraus/AP

Approximately 200 National Football League (NFL) players sat, knelt or raised fists in protest during the playing of the national anthem before the league’s games on Sunday. The protest came after President Donald Trump told a crowd at a rally in Alabama that players who don’t stand for the anthem are unpatriotic and should be fired or suspended by NFL team owners.

Most of the players who protested locked arms with their teammates, while some coaches and team owners joined them. In one case, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin held all but one player – Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva – in the locker room while the anthem played. Villanueva stood outside of the team tunnel to participate in the anthem.

Kneeling during the national anthem took the spotlight more than a year ago when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did so to protest police treatment of minorities. Kaepernick is now out of the league, and some believe owners have been hesitant to sign him because of the controversy.

The NFL, NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and all but two of the NFL’s 32 team owners around the league issued statements on Sunday in response to the president’s comments. Some owners joined their teams in protest on the sidelines, including Shahid Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Jeffrey Lurie of the Philadelphia Eagles and Daniel Snyder of the Washington Redskins.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who was a vocal supporter and donor to Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign, issued a statement on Sunday.

“There is no greater unifier in this country than sports and, unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics,” Kraft said. “I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal.”

The Redskins issued a similar statement ahead of their Sunday night kickoff against the Raiders.

“Football has always served as the great unifier, bringing people together to celebrate the values of courage, commitment and achievement,” the statement read. “We are proud of the players, coaches and fans of the Washington Redskins for all that they have done to improve the lives of others in neighborhoods all across our region.

“We are also grateful for the sacrifices made by the brave men and women of our armed forces that have provided us the freedom to play football. In that great tradition, the Washington Redskins will work to address divisions and bring unity, civility and respect to our greater community.”

While at least a handful of players from each of the league’s 28 teams in action protested on Sunday, not all fans were happy with the display. In New England, Buffalo and other stadiums some fans booed the display or chanted “Stand up!”

After a full day of protests by NFL players, the television ratings for Sunday Night Football (SNF) on NBC took a hit. NBC reported that ratings for the game the game between the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins were down 9 percent from the previous week’s SNF game between the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers.

According to television trade publication Deadline Hollywood, this week’s SNF game was the lowest watched edition this season. NBC also announced that 11.6 percent of American households watched the game, down from 12.9 percent for the previous season’s comparable game.

The United States Sports Academy and the Sport Digest remain committed to informing readers on this developing story. Stay tuned for additional coverage.

By the United States Sports Academy

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