Eddie Pells, The Associated Press
Published Monday, September 10, 2018 15:28 EDT
DENVER – Last season the Seattle Seahawks led the competition when it came to the number of players willing to make a statement while the national anthem was playing.
To start this season, that wave has been reduced from Seahawks to just two players.
Linemen Duane Brown and Quinton Jefferson walked off the field and waited in the tunnel while an American flag was unfolded in field format and the national anthem for their season opener was played in Denver on Sunday.
In a competition where more than 200 players ever took some kind of action to protest against police brutality and social injustice in America during the hymn, The Associated Press had fewer than 10 members of the division who did so on the opening Sunday of the NFL. Only two of them – Albert Wilson and Kenny Stills of the Dolphins – knelt while the "Star-Spangled Banner" played.
None of what bothered Brown a lot. He says he is committed to what he does.
"I made my decision," he said. "That was my decision, I did not pay any attention to what other teams or other players are doing."
The lower numbers may reflect a new strategy that many players embrace to draw attention to the problems that Colin Kaepernick raised when he began to kneel in 2016 for the national anthem. The quartermaster from San Francisco 49ers wanted to shed light on issues that had consequences for African American communities. .
Since then, a group of NFL players has formed the player coalition. They want to draw the attention away from the national anthem, which has become a lightning conductor, partly because of President Donald Trump's constant criticism of players who are not at the national anthem.
"We try to ignore the rhetoric of what is right or what is wrong in terms of the national anthem, and to really focus on the systematic problems that plague our communities," said Malcolm Jenkins of the Eagles, one of the co-workers -founders of the group, who no longer protests during the national anthem.
And yet, when Kaepernick is on board with all that, it was not clear Sunday. He started tweeting to praise Wilson and Stiles.
"My Brothers (Stills) and (Wilson) continue to show their unwavering power by fighting for the oppressed," Kaepernick said in his tweet. "They have not supported, even if they are attacked and intimidated … Love is the cause of our resistance."
Kaepernick's message went through to his friends in Miami.
"I know he has our back," Stills said. "Really, there has been a huge difference between when we first protested and now, many people reach us and support us, so I really appreciate that." To everyone out there … let's continue doing our best to make positive things change and make these conversations and make our country a better place. "
Since 2016, Kaepernick has canceled his contract because he was unable to get a job with an NFL team and he challenges the union for collusion.
But his voice is still heard. Last week, Nike introduced an ad with the quarterback and its message: "Believe in something, even if it means that everything is being sacrificed."
Unlike Stills, Wilson and the two Seahawks, the Dolphin line of defense Robert Quinn raised his fist during the national anthem. Niners receiver Marquise Goodwin did the same in the San Francisco game in Minnesota. In Los Angeles Chargers left, Russell Okung raised his fist. And back in Denver, Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas and linebacker Brandon Marshall retreated to their tunnel while the national anthem was being played.
Marshall sent a statement to a charity that was designed to help people who are about to be homeless.
"It's time to build social currency by strengthening our future generations," said Marshall. "This starts with addressing the most fundamental needs – by feeding the spirits and bodies."
This came hours after Trump opened the day with a tweet doing excavations on the NFL, linking low ratings for the Thursday night opener between Atlanta and Philadelphia (lowest for an opener since 2008) for players who refuse to stand up for the national anthem.
"If the players are proud of our flag and the national anthem, and it is all shown during the broadcast, there may be some feedback, or else worse!" he tweeted.
CBS and Fox, who attended the Sunday afternoon games, did not broadcast the national anthem.
However, NBC showed the anthem Thursday night (but not before Sunday's Bears-Packers game) and no player knelt or protested in other ways.
But while the tumult over the national anthem seems to be dying, the NFL has still not cooperated with the players' union to come up with a definitive solution.
In May, the union briefly adopted a policy, but it repealed after the association filed a complaint. The trade union and the competition are still negotiating. Brown, of the Seahawks, said he did not receive any message from the union to stifle the protest.
"I do not think this would be the best idea to try and get people in," he said. "The country has not gotten any further, so I will not leave it."