NFL preseason sees kneeling, raised fists, during national anthem

NFL players continued to protest during the national anthem on Thursday night as the league began the first full week of its 2018 preseason.

Some players held their fists in the air, while others decided to kneel, despite the controversy surrounding the action.

Wide receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson, both of the Miami Dolphins, knelt during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” ahead of their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Miami Heraldreported.

Robert Quinn, a defensive end for the Dolphins, raised his fist. Philadelphia Eagles Malcolm Jenkins, who plays safety, and De’Vante Bausby, a cornerback, also raised their fists prior to a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Defensive end Michael Bennett walked out of the tunnel as the anthem played and “spent the anthem walking toward the bench,” the news outlet reported. Teammate Chris Long reportedly “placed his arm around Jenkins’ shoulder” during the song.

The NFL released a statement on the preseason protests.

“The NFL has been engaged in constructive discussions with the NFL Players Association regarding the anthem and issues of equality and social justice that are of concern to many Americans,” the statement said. “While those discussions continue, the NFL has agreed to delay implementing or enforcing any club work rules that could result in players being disciplined for their conduct during the performance of the anthem.”

The statement went on to say that the league’s national anthem policy remained unchanged: it will continue to be played before each game, and all players and team staff on the field are expected to stand for the flag and the anthem. Those who choose not to stand must remain in the locker rooms.

“We remain committed to working with the players to identify solutions and to continue making progress on important social issues affecting our communities,” the statement concluded.

Miami Dolphins Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson. AP photos
Wide receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson, both of the Miami Dolphins, kneeled during The Star-Spangled Banner, ahead of their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night. (Associated Press)

Across the NFL, players followed former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem last season in protest of social injustice and racial inequality.

It sparked a national discussion about patriotism, and drew sharp vitriol from President Trump, who condemned those who knelt as disrespectful to America.

Trump in June uninvited the Eagles from visiting the White House in honor of their Super Bowl win months earlier. He said the team didn’t agree with his belief that NFL players should stand during the anthem.

The NFL modified its national anthem protocol in May, prohibiting any sort of demonstrations for the 2018 season, but allowing players to remain in the locker room during the anthem if they chose to. Individual teams would be responsible for disciplining any demonstrators.

The players’ union filed a grievance about the policy change, and late last month, the new policy was put on hold while the NFL and NFL Players Association work on a resolution.

Following Stills and Wilson’s reported protests Thursday, Kaepernick tweeted: “My brother @kstills continued his protest of systemic oppression tonight by taking a knee. Albert Wilson @iThinkIsee12 joined him in protest. Stay strong brothers!”

Elizabeth Zwirz, Amy Lieu and Stephen Sorace contributed to this report.

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