Demonstrations Minimal During NFL Opening Weekend; Mass Anthem Protests "Likely Over"
It was thought the NFL would be "filled with images of players kneeling or otherwise protesting during the national anthem" during Week 1, but many current and former players have "reached the conclusion that the period of mass anthem protests is likely over," according to Mike Freeman of BLEACHER REPORT. One player said, "The anthem protests are basically dead." Players said that some will "still make their feelings known," like Seahawks DE Michael Bennett, but overall the movement has "slowed to a crawl." Freeman noted while a "large faction of older players wants to organize the anthem protests so they last through the season, they are meeting great resistance from younger players who don't seem to care." The players are "not unified enough to keep the anthem protests going" (BLEACHERREPORT.com, 9/13). THE UNDEFEATED's Jesse Washington noted as player activism becomes "more widespread, the NFL is caught in a tightening vise of boycotts from both sides of the political spectrum." Browns TE Randall Telfer supported his kneeling teammates by "standing next to them" during an Aug. 21 preseason game. When the "backlash hit, Telfer and other players met with team owners and executives," including coach Hue Jackson and Exec VP/Football Operations Sashi Brown, to "try to chart a different course." The result included a video that was aired on the FirstEnergy Stadium scoreboards before the anthem at Sunday's Steelers-Browns game, "meetings with local police and plans for more community engagement." Telfer "hopes the outcome can help lead the NFL out of its political pickle." He said, "The idea of unity and equality in our video is something that everyone can get behind. ... I think that message will resonate with a lot of people." Browns VP/Communications Peter John-Baptiste said that more players are "realizing they have the platform to make a positive difference." John-Baptiste said, "The attention that the league gets, people see the power that it has, they know they can have an impact on society. So people are going to take advantage of that. It's a really powerful thing" (THEUNDEFEATED.com, 9/13).
USING THEIR PLATFORM: Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin said athletes "have a platform" and an "opportunity to speak up about social issues that we feel dearly about." Baldwin said, "I know that some fans can say, 'Oh you're getting paid to put on this product' and I agree with them wholeheartedly. But they're not getting paid to stand in the stands. They're actually paying to come to the games. They don't necessarily have a platform in that instance and to make a social topic relevant, so why is it difficult for fans to understand that and follow suit as well?" Baldwin touched on the Browns' display on Sunday and said, "I wish there could be more of that. However, we do have owners in this league, we do have managers, we do have organizations that you know just operate differently. Sometimes it doesn't lend itself to players being able to do those type of things" ("PFT," NBCSN, 9/13).
WHERE'S THE FIGHT? In West Palm Beach, Joe Schad notes Dolphins WR Kenny Stills is "frustrated more NFL players are not supporting" Colin Kaepernick. Stills "took to Twitter to ask athletes why, and the lack of response only added to his exasperation." He said, "I feel like the league is majority African American and you would think more people would come to have one of our guys' back." Stills said that he "wants to learn more about why players aren't speaking out." He added that he has engaged Bennett "about social issues." Stills also has "thought about if he should kneel again during national anthems, as he did last season." Stills: "It's definitely something that I've thought about but I continue to think that the protest has been really divisive" (PALM BEACH POST, 9/14). Stills said that he was "proud" of the 12 Browns players who "knelt in prayer during the national anthem" in the preseason. Stills and Dolphins S Michael Thomas "knelt all last season, but neither did so" during the team's four preseason games. The Dolphins kick off their season Sunday against the Chargers (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 9/14). FS1’s Skip Bayless said, “What more can be achieved or accomplished that Colin Kaepernick didn't already achieve? ... As far as a football player goes making a statement, Colin Kaepernick won. I'm going to say it again -- he had dramatic national impact” (“Undisputed,” FS1, 9/14).