The Arizona Cardinals and the Washington Redskins football players all stood for the national anthem ahead of the season opener Sunday at State Farm Stadium.
No one knew what to expect in light of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s appearance in a Nike 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign. The ad and its tagline — “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” — have drawn controversy.
In Miami, a pair of Dolphins players, Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson, knelt ahead of their game against Tennessee earlier Sunday.
Kapernick offered his support for the pair on Twitter.
“My Brothers @kstills and @ithinkisee12 continue to show their unwavering strength by fighting for the oppressed! They have not backed down, even when attacked and intimidated,” Kaepernick wrote. “Their courage will move the world forward! ‘Love is at the root of our resistance!’”
It was Kaepernick, then with the 49ers, who started the protest in 2016 over police brutality and systemic racism.
Kaepernick has been unsigned for more than a year and has sued the NFL, saying owners have wrongly colluded to keep him out of the league. He is joined in the lawsuit by former teammate Eric Reid.
The protest has morphed into a debate over the military and patriotism as demonstrating players have been called out by President Donald Trump, who called them “sons of bitches” who were disrespecting the flag.
Kaepernick made the decision to kneel instead of sitting after former Seahawks player and Army Green Beret Nate Boyer advised him it would be more respectful to veterans.
On Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to voice his displeasure for the movement, which he blamed for the NFL’s drop in viewership over the past decade.
“If the players stood proudly for our Flag and Anthem, and it is all shown on broadcast, maybe ratings could come back? Otherwise worse!” Trump wrote.
A group of players calling themselves the NFL Players Coalition is focusing on community activism. The coalition recently finalized a partnership with the NFL that allotted close to $90 million for efforts and programs combating social inequality.
Despite the arrival of the regular season, the NFL has yet to release an official policy on the anthem.
NFL owners voted to approve a rule requiring players to either stand on the field for the anthem or to stay in the locker room for the duration of the song in May. The policy was put on hold while the league discussed the matter with the NFL Players Association amid backlash.