Teams across the NFL chose to stay in the locker room for both the Star-Spangled Banner and Lift Every Voice and Sing, commonly known as the Black national anthem, during the opening Sunday of the league.
Only one NFL team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, admitted fans on Sunday due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Jaguars stayed in the locker room for the anthems, while their opponents, the Indianapolis Colts, stood on the goalline. Their head coach, Frank Reich, was the only member of the team to kneel. Indianapolis Star reporter Joel Erickson estimated half the crowd stood for Lift Every Voice and Sing.
The Jaguars said in a statement similar to those issued by other teams that they had decided to stay in the locker room “to continue raising awareness of racial injustice against the Black community. We understand that not everyone will agree with our position and demonstration, we hope that all will seek to understand the reason for it.”
Elsewhere, Washington players decided to kneel on for the anthem, while their opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles, left the field.
Washington is on field for the national anthem. Philadelphia is not. All Washington players and coaches appear to be standing. pic.twitter.com/4A3awSWTbo
The NFL’s opening weekend came after months of anti-racism protests, following the police killing of George Floyd in May. When another black man, Jacob Blake, was shot in the back by police last month the protests moved to the sports world with the NBA, WNBA, MLB and MLS among the leagues postponing games in protest.
In the NFL’s opening game on Thursday night, fans at the Kansas City Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium booed a “moment of unity” when players from both the home team and the visiting Houston Texans linked arms while messages such as “We must end racism” and “We choose unconditional love” were displayed on the scoreboard.
Houston’s star defensive end, JJ Watt, who is white said: “I mean the booing during that moment was unfortunate. I don’t fully understand that. There was no flag involved. There was nothing involved other than two teams coming together to show unity.”
Player protests have been a huge storyline in the NFL since Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem to highlight racial injustice during the 2016 season. Kaepernick soon found himself out of the NFL and many believe he has been blackballed by the league’s owners because of his political stance.
In June, the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, admitted the league should have listened to its players earlier on the subject of racism and police brutality against black people. Around two-thirds of NFL players are black, while 29 of the majority owners of the league’s 32 teams are white.