President Donald Trump criticized NFL players who protest during the national anthem in a speech he delivered on Friday in Alabama, suggesting that team owners should fire players who do so.
Every team that played on Sunday participated in some form of demonstration — from players, coaches and executives who stood together arm-in-arm along the sidelines to others who sat, knelt or raised a fist to whole teams that stayed in the locker room or tunnel for the duration of the anthem.
Here’s a sampling of quotes from those who did (and did not) participate in these demonstrations.
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers coach: “I really think that more than anything it minimized it as a distraction for us and once we came to that determination it was business as usual. The big thing is that we remain united. This game of football is a unique one and we’re all blessed to be a part of it. … We will not be divided by this, we’ve got a group of men in there that come from different socio-economic backgrounds, races, creeds, ethnicities, religions and so forth. That’s football. That’s a lot of team sports. But because of our position we get drug into bullshit to be quite honest with you. Some have opinions, some don’t. We wanted to protect those who don’t and we wanted to protect those who do. We came here to play a football game today, and that was our intention.” Tomlin and Steelers coaches stood on the sideline for the national anthem while all but one player stood in the tunnel.
Von Miller, Denver Broncos linebacker: “Me and my teammates, we felt like, we felt like President Trump’s speech was an assault on our most cherished right — freedom of speech. So, collectively we felt like we had to do something before this game. … I have a huge respect for the military and for the protective services — I’ve been to Afghanistan, met real-life super heroes, it wasn’t any disrespect to them, it was for my brothers that have been attacked for things that they do during the game and I felt like I had to join them on this one.” Miller was one of 32 Broncos players who knelt during the anthem.
Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks cornerback: “As a team, we wanted to do our best to not ostracize our guys, any of our individuals, allow them to feel welcomed and not really make them uncomfortable. That’s the worst thing you could do as a teammate is put your teammate in an uncomfortable position. We don’t go out, the whole team doesn’t come out, then it’s easier for them to defend themselves, say, ‘Hey, it’s a team decision. I just did what the team did.’ You’re a good teammate, perfect, fine. But if you get out there and you ask a guy to knee or sit, going against his values, going against his family, you put him in weird spots. So we never wanted to do that. We think we did a good job getting our message out and trying not to distract from it.” Sherman and the Seahawks stayed in the locker room for the anthem.
Drew Brees, Saints quarterback: “Do I think that there’s inequality in this country? Yes I do. Do I think that there’s racism? Yes I do. I think that there’s inequality for women, for women in the workplace. I think that there’s inequality for people of color, for minorities, for immigrants. But as it pertains to the national anthem, I will always feel that if you are an American that the national anthem is the opportunity for us all to stand up together, to be unified and to show respect for our country.” Brees stood for the anthem.
Chris Long, Philadelphia Eagles defensive end: “It kind of gets conflated because there’s things that guys are protesting about but when the president calls us out, we’re all of the sudden kind of protesting the right to protest, which you wouldn’t think you’d have to do in this country. This is a wonderful, wonderful country with things that we can improve, and that’s all those guys were trying to do was improve some things. Maybe he should lead another country because this isn’t the country where peaceful protest is unacceptable. That’s what this country is built on.” Long stood with teammate Malcolm Jenkins, who raised his fist during the anthem.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver: “I [put my hand over my heart] for the troops and military. People are going to try to misconstrue and depict a different picture than what it really is. I love the military, like I said last year when I took the knee. It is nothing against the military at all. The anthem is different for other people. People say it’s unpatriotic to kneel, but it’s unpatriotic of the president for not respecting our rights.” Evans knelt alongside fellow receiver DeSean Jackson.
DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns quarterback: “It’s a tragedy in our country that we have to sit here and still have these discussions. I know for a fact that I’m no ‘son of a bitch’ and I plan on continuing forward and doing whatever I can from my position to promote the equality that’s needed in this country.” Kizer stood for the anthem.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints running back: “Yeah, [the fans] were saying, ‘Stand up, losers’ and all of that. You know that’s gonna come. I mean, I’m sure if you look at social media, they’re M-Fing us and telling us we’re the worst type of Americans. But I love my country. And I want the best for my country. And [Trump] claims he wants the best for his country — ‘Make America Great Again,’ that’s his slogan, how he got elected. And in order for us to be great again as a country, and not have all this racism and bigotry and injustice, we all need to realize that there is a problem and be there for each other to correct the problem.” Ingram was one of at least 10 Saints players who sat during the anthem.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots quarterback: “I just think there is a great love for my teammates. … I believe in all of us coming together. … We all go through ups-and-downs and struggles, it’s life and we’re all trying to navigate it as best we can. I believe love is the greatest thing we have to overcome a lot of things.” Brady locked arms with his teammate Phillip Dorsett.
Phillip Dorsett, Patriots wide receiver: “Just wanted to show everyone we’re unified between one another. We’re together. We’re strong. This game is a great game because of the brotherhood and the relationships; it’s amazing what this game to bring to everybody. People have a platform to be able to change. We just wanted to show that we are one, not just with our team, but the whole NFL, with everybody.” Dorsett locked arms with Brady.
A.J. Bouye, Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback: “I was pissed off last night just for the simple fact I don’t know the president as a man, just like he doesn’t know us as men, and it holds close to home with me because for the simple fact what you say about us, you’re disrespecting our moms. I lost my mom to cancer. My stepmom came in, I know she’s not what he’s calling her. She got her doctorate from Ohio State. When you’re 5 years old and you’re seeing your dad have a gun pointed at his head because he looks suspicious in the neighborhood at 6 a.m. because he’s dropping his son off at a babysitter, it’s not about race. It’s not about black and white, it’s about right and wrong.
“I have respect for the military. I have family in the military. I know we’re in a military town in Jacksonville. I love all the people that go out there and fight for our country. I love the family members, the brothers, the sisters, the mothers, the fathers, the sons, the daughters, those are at home not knowing what’s going to happen to their family members, but I also have respect for those people, whether they’re black, white, Mexican, whatever, who done lost their child or somebody else to a police officer. And that’s what it’s all about.” Bouye was one of at least 13 Jaguars players to kneel during the anthem.
Derek Wolfe, Broncos defensive end: “[There’s no split in the locker room] because we give each other a chance to speak and we listen to each other when we speak. Most people, whenever somebody’s talking they already have an idea in their head of what they’re saying, they’re not listening to what’s being said, they’re thinking about what they want to take from it.” Wolfe stood for the anthem after vocalizing his opinion on national anthem protests. More than 32 of his teammates participated in some form of social protest.
Rishard Matthews, Tennessee Titans wide receiver: “I’m tired of hearing stick to sports. It comes down to right and wrong in this word. If you see wrong and don’t say anything that’s wrong. As minorities, what do you want to happen before we say anything? They tried to have a silent protest and look what happened. It’s your right to stand or sit down. You have that right and you’re not allowing that to happen.”
Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback: “We’re all our own individuals. We’re all part of this team but we come from different places … we have great respect for whatever the choice is, whatever you choose to do. Nobody is judging. We also know our main goal is to go win the game. That’s what our focus is. The anthem adds another deal right before the game. I think some guys feel like they’ve got to make choices either way and I think this team has great respect for whatever those are. … I don’t always feel comfortable talking about this stuff. We’re athletes and we’re playing football. But certainly I’d be lying if I said [Trump’s] comments didn’t upset me. … I’m talking about the comments that were made by the president. Targeting the NFL, targeting the quality of the character of guys in this league for that very protest, I find that very alarming. This is the same guy that couldn’t condemn violent neo-nazis and he’s condemning guys that are taking a knee during the anthem. I find there’s bigger issues out there that he should be worried about but for some reason the NFL is on his mind.” Smith stood for the anthem.
Danny Trevathan, Chicago Bears linebacker: “This is history right here. Last night I prayed to God and asked the question, ‘How do I want to be defined?’ How do the 2017 Bears want to be defined — as men? Not as individuals, but men. They’re going to look at our record, of course we want to win the game, but how are they going to look at us in this situation, how do we stand as a team. I was proud of everyone that stood up and said their peace. You know, people have mixed emotions. A lot of people have military members in their family or know people in the military, I know I do. But at the end of the day, I look at my teammates, they had my back, and we went out there and fought.” Trevathan organized the Bears’ decision to link arms during the anthem.
Demar Dotson, Buccaneers offensive tackle: “I voted for Trump but through the last couple months, man, I kinda wish I didn’t vote for him. He’s definitely not doing a good job holding down the office of the president … He’s doing a real poor job. It’s almost like he’s going out of his way to create enemies. I don’t know what he’s doing, what his purpose is, what his plan is but he’s not a good president right now.
“That’s one of the biggest things — the non-stop tweeting. He needs to worry about some of the problems in our country. He’s a poor president right now.” Dotson stood with the majority of his teammates.
Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions tight end: “I’m for my teammates. I’m united with my teammates. But I do not stand for disrespect so what I was not going to do was unite to make it seem like it was OK. Because it’s not. It’s not OK for what [Trump] said.” Ebron was the only Lions player to not link arms.
Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver: “We’re a brotherhood, we love each other, we don’t care what the appearance is of one another. We just want to go fight for each other and we want to show that, hey, we’re in this together. We love this country and we want it to be the country that it’s been.” Thielen linked arms with other Vikings players.
Malcolm Jenkins, Eagles safety: “I think it sends a message to players, to the fan base, to anybody watching that these demonstrations and the players that have been standing up for their communities aren’t looked at in a bad way, the way we’ve been depicted over the last year isn’t true, and that our teammates don’t feel that way, our coaches don’t feel that way and the ownerships of these teams don’t feel that way. I think it’s time that those people stand up — and not stand up and take on this fight, but at least show support and change the narrative that’s been encircling these demonstrations and the reasons. We’ve been so caught up over the last year over what’s right and what’s wrong and spent very little time actually talking about the issues.” Jenkins stood with his fist in the air.
Thomas Morstead, Saints punter: “If you respect the brothers on your team, and if there’s something that they’re feeling strong enough about to demonstrate or do whatever, I think it’s important for guys on this team to show support in any way they can, whether it be publicly or privately. But these guys, our kids play together, our wives are friends, and they’re great people, and we just want to support ’em.” Morstead stood by the Saints players who sat on the bench, with his arm on a teammate’s shoulder.
Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens linebacker: “Personally, I think the comments made about my brothers decided to protest and kneel is kind of what made us no longer be silent. We stand with our brothers. They have the right to protest. We knelt with them today. Non-violent protest is as American as it gets. We knelt with them today and let them know we are a unified front. There is no dividing us. I guess we’re all ‘sons of bitches.'” Suggs was one of 10 Ravens players to kneel during the anthem.
Jason McCourty, Browns cornerback: “You do things and people on your social media tell you that you’re a crybaby or you’re making a ton of money doing this or doing that, but the majority of my family doesn’t have that type of money. The majority of people I grew up with doesn’t have that type of money. You’re not only voicing something for yourself, but you’re voicing it for the people that you represent.” McCourty knelt for the anthem.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers quarterback: “By no means, no way shape or form, was there any disrespect intended toward our troops and those that serve this country. We all have the utmost respect for them, obviously. They give us the freedom to play this game. Last night, obviously with all the issues going on if you will, we had a players’ only meeting after the team meeting last night. We decided we were going to talk about what we were going to do because we knew some guys wanted to take a knee, guys wanted to stand. We said whatever we do, we need to make sure we are unified as one group because that’s what we are about and that is what it should be about. Staying together as one unit, one group, one brotherhood, things like that, so rather than having one guy kneel, one guy stand, the conclusion was made by everybody that the best thing to do was to stay in the locker room and show respect that way.” Roethlisberger was not on the field for the anthem, along with most of the Steelers.
Leonard Williams, New York Jets defensive end: “[Acting owner Christopher Johnson] individually spoke to every single person in this locker room. He didn’t have one big speech. He walked up to every individual, looked them in the eyes and told us he was going to support us in what we wanted to do. He also asked us if he could join us, and that meant a lot to everybody.” Williams on Johnson, who stood arm-in-arm with the Jets during the anthem.
Michael Thomas, Miami Dolphins safety: “With everything going on in this world, especially in the U.S., this is what you’re worried about, my man? You’re the leader of the free world. This is what you’re talking about? As a man, as a father, as an African-American man, yeah, I took it personal. But at the same time it is bigger than me.” Thomas stood for the anthem. (ESPN | Video Courtesy of Almutaz Bur News Network)