10 Unexpected Takes on the NFL’s National Anthem Protests

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Whether you’re an NFL fan or not, it was impossible to miss the surreal events last weekend at games around the league. Fueled by President Donald Trump’s recent comments that any player who knelt during the national anthem is “a son of a bitch” and should be fired, NFL players responded just as many predicted — more players than ever chose to kneel. Three teams even opted not to be on the field for the anthem, as required by league rules. Here are a few unexpected takes on the anthem protests, Trump’s comments and this controversial issue that has strangely fused the sports and political worlds.

Washington Redskins players kneel during the national anthem before their game on Sept. 24. © Keith Allison

10. “I’m pissed off. I supported Donald Trump. [These comments] are appalling to me … I never signed up for that.”

— ESPN analyst and former NFL head coach Rex Ryan, on Sunday NFL Countdown. Those remarks are notable because Ryan has been an ardent Trump supporter from the beginning, even proclaiming in late July, “I think anybody who is against him now is against our country. Without question, I’m proud to be a proud supporter of Donald Trump.”


9. “Guess that makes me a proud bitch!”

— Teresa Kaepernick, responding to President Trump’s profane comment describing players who kneel for the national anthem. Of course, her son, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, launched the whole protest movement last year by sitting during the anthem before a game.


8. “I’m the secretary of defense. We defend the country.”

— Secretary of Defense James Mattis, giving a no-nonsense “not part of my job description” answer when asked by a reporter for his thoughts on the NFL protests.


7. “I waited until the national anthem ended, I took off my shirt, threw my Bills hat on the ground [and] walked out.”

— Longtime Buffalo Bills fan Erich Nikischer, who quit his job of almost 30 years at the Bills’ stadium after witnessing Sunday’s protest. Nikischer told Buffalo’s WGRZ-TV that he supported players’ right to protest, but “During the national anthem … the song that is about our country, our veterans that fight and die for us, it’s just something I feel you shouldn’t disrespect that way.”


6. “I do not think the place to express yourself in society is as we recognize the American flag. So that’s not the place to do anything other than honor the flag and everybody that’s given up a little bit for it.”

— Cowboys team owner Jerry Jones, in an interview last week with Fox Business. Nevertheless, Jones and his entire Cowboys team took a knee before their game, although they all stood in unison for the anthem.


5. “At one stroke, thanks to an attempted vulgar display of strength, Trump changed the playing of the anthem and the display of the flag from a moment where all but the most radical Americans could unite to one where millions of well-meaning Americans could and did legitimately believe that the decision to kneel represented a defense of the ideals of the flag, not defiance of the nation they love. … So yes, I understand why they knelt.”

— David French, a writer for the conservative website NationalReview.com.


4. “Not my president. He was chosen, true. But when a president acts like that, what do you say to that? That’s not someone that stands with dignity, pride, respect, honor. Where’s the honor in that? Where’s the dignity in that? Where is anything that’s prideful in doing what you did?”

— Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, echoing the thoughts of many NFL players after President Trump’s comments about anthem protesters.


3. “I’m an American. I don’t desecrate my flag and my national anthem. I’m not gonna do anything against the flag and national anthem. I’m going to work within those situations. But this is my country, and I’ll work out the problems, but I’ll do it in an intelligent manner.”

— NFL legend Jim Brown, speaking out on anthem protests in an interview with ThePostGame in August. Brown, an African American who has been active in civil rights causes since the 1960s, has said he supports Colin Kaepernick and other protestors’ goal of raising awareness about racial inequality, but that demonstrating during the national anthem is inappropriate. “I want to be in his corner, and I do think, ‘God bless him,’” Brown said.


2. “Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself, I feel embarrassed … Unfortunately, I threw (my teammates) under the bus, unintentionally.”

— Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, telling reporters he had not intended to stand alone on the field, hand over his heart, during the anthem while the rest of his teammates remained behind in the locker room. Villanueva became a hero to many for his action, and his No. 78 NFL jersey almost immediately became the top-selling jersey in the league. But the former U.S. Army Ranger, who served three tours in Afghanistan and won the Bronze Star, said his move was the result of a mix up.


1. “The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem. During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. … It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.”

— The NFL’s official game operations manual, Section A62–63 (via the Washington Post). No penalties or fines were levied for any of the activities this past weekend.


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