Six players for San Francisco, three for Miami, one for Denver, and a handful more for other teams around the league have joined the protest

By Caitlin Keating
September 19, 2016 05:20 AM

In one simple moment during a NFL game, a player’s personal political beliefs became part of the national conversation – and people are taking sides.

It started in August when backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick from the San Francisco 49ers refused stand during the national anthem in protest of racial tensions and violence in America.

Some players (including players from other sports) have chosen to stand behind Kaepernick and follow his lead – taking a knee, raising a fist or sitting during the anthem as a sign of solidarity and protest. However, some players have chosen to go in the opposite direction by waving the American flag during the national anthem in what they call a show of patriotism.

As the second week of the official NFL season began on Sunday, it wasn’t just Kaepernick and 49ers safety Eric Reid taking a knee.

Colin Kaepernick #7 and Eric Reid #35 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel
Grant Halverson/Getty

Four more 49ers players – linebacker Eli Harold, cornerback Rashard Robinson and safeties Antoine Bethea and Jaquiski Tartt – joined in and raised their right fists before their game against the Carolina Panthers.

Over at the Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, three players for the Miami Dolphins – receiver Kenny Stills, safety Michael Thomas and running back Arian Foster – sat in protest for the second week in a row.

Fans in Miami burned jerseys in response to the players’ actions, according to Sporting News, and the head of the Broward County’s Sheriff’s Union wrote that he wants to end police escorts for the team.

From left: Arian Foster (#29), Kenny Stills (#10) and Michael Thomas (#31) kneel during the national anthem
Steven Senne/AP

“As a law enforcement union, we certainly encourage people to exercise their constitutional right of freedom of speech,” Jeff Bell wrote. “However, in certain professions, an individual’s freedom of speech must take a back seat to the organization or government entity that they choose to represent.

“I can not fathom why the Miami Dolphin organization and the NFL would allow the blatant disrespect of the American flag and what it stands for during the national anthem. It is a privilege to play in the NFL, not a given constitutional right.”

(The NFL has repeatedly said that they do not require players to stand during the national anthem.)

Amidst boos from the audience, Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall took a knee before Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Despite Air Academy Federal Credit Union ending their relationship with him and Century Link terminating their contract, he says he will not stop his sign of protest.

“I’m still doing what I believe in. It’s not going to make me lose sleep,” he told Fox 31. “At the end of the day, I’m still going to play football but still do what I believe in.”

Tennessee Titans cornerback Jason McCourty and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey raised their fists in Detroit, as did Los Angeles Rams defensive end Robert Quinn.

Before the games began on Sunday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that while he disagrees with Kaepernick’s decision to kneel, the league will still continue to encourage players to use their voice.

“As I’ve said before, I truly respect our players wanting to speak out and change the community,” Goodell told reporters. “We don’t live in a perfect society. We want them to use that voice. And they’re moving from protests to progress and trying to make things happen in the communities. And I admire that about our players, [being] willing to do that.”

In response to Kaepernick and others protesting, Washington Redskins players helped military personnel hold a 100-yard flag covering the field during the national anthem on Sept. 12.

Kedric Golston #64 of the Washington Redskins joins players and members of military to hold a flag during the national anthem
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

“It’s not going to change the view of someone else and how the way they look at it. It’s not going to change the way people treat us,” defensive end Ricky Jean Francois told the Washington Post. “It’s not going to change how society runs. It’s not. If you want to get something done, there’s ways to get it done. But kneeling on the – I understand that’s your first step. Now let’s move on to the next step, and we don’t know what that is.”

Kaepernick previously stated that he is “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

He added: “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

He’s also done a lot more than just kneeling in silence. On Sept. 1 he made a pledge to donate the first $1 million he earns this year to charities that help communities in need to further support the causes he believes in.

“I’ve been very blessed to be in this position and to be able to make the kind of money I do,” he told reporters.