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Voices of NFL Players on Sunday’s Protests During the National Anthem

Whatever gesture they made, players we talked to were unified in their message that the president’s comments were disrespectul, and that they had a right—even a duty—to speak out for what they believed in
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The MMQB staff spoke with numerous players regarding Sunday’s national anthem demonstrations around the league in response to President Trump’s comments. Here are some of those voices:

Julius Peppers, DE, Panthers
Age 37, 16th season in the league
Hometown: Wilson, N.C.

Peppers remained in the locker room for the anthem.

“I wasn’t going to ask anybody else to do something that they didn’t feel comfortable with. I’m a man, I stand on my two feet and I make my own decisions.

“I felt like [Trump] attacked our brothers, my brothers, in the league. So I felt it was appropriate to stand up for them and stay in the locker room.

“I’m not living my life to make everybody happy. I’m doing things that I feel are right and things that I believe in. There are only a few times in a man’s life where you have a chance to stand up in something that you believe in and make a statement. Today I thought that was that chance, and I took it.”

Brandon Coleman, WR, Saints
Age 25, third season in the league
Hometown: Accokeek, Md.

Coleman sat for the anthem and also raised a fist when the Saints scored.

On President Trump’s comments: “I hoped that it was a joke. I couldn’t believe it. He said some crazy things before, but this was out of line. I was at a loss for words. For him to publicly say that, I don’t think he should be able to say that and not have any repercussions.”

On his fist-raising gesture: “It was last minute, it’s just what felt right to do, my peaceful protest and that’s how I went about it. That was all spontaneous. I did that to symbolize standing strong with my people. Black power, that’s what that means to me. We all have to be unified but especially with black people.”

Is this Trump vs. Sports? “I don’t want it to become that because for me I think this is a distraction. We are focused on winning, and I didn’t want that to take away from our job today. Our job is to play football and get a win, so I didn’t want that to be a distraction for the team and what we bring to the season. He is irrelevant. He doesn’t know anything about football. It’s kind of hard.”

On Trump’s comment about safety measures ruining the game: “He knows nothing about this game. He knows nothing about the blood, sweat and tears that the guys sacrifice. He should just stay—I don’t even want him staying in politics—but he should just stay out of sports.”

Kenny Vaccaro, S, Saints
Age 27, fifth season in the league

Hometown: Brownwood, Texas

Vaccaro sat for the anthem with nine teammates.

“I was sitting down as the game was about it to begin. I was like, you know what, I’m not getting up. I asked [Rafael] Bush if he was going to get up, and the next thing you know, everybody started joining me. Obviously everybody knows about the president’s comments, and I am just trying to support the movement that Kap started. I’ve always felt like we needed to do something.

“I didn’t want to disrespect anyone. It’s not about the military. Some of my best friends are in the military. After those comments yesterday, I decided to do something. All my teammates started joining me one by one. Our team didn’t talk about it. I started getting emotional when it got to the point where the anthem was about to start, and I was like, you know, I’m not going to stand today. I know how it’s viewed for a lot of teams and a lot of owners, but I thought it was bigger than football for that moment until that first whistle.

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“I don’t think it is a fight against Trump. I think we need to focus on the real problem. The inequality, the police brutality, that’s the real problem. I think people are taking it as Trump vs. the league, Trump vs. the NBA, but it’s about that. People need to see the bigger picture. Guys don’t really care about Trump. They aren’t sitting because of that. They are sitting from what Kap started, the movement he started and I think people need to realize that it has nothing to do with our military. I love our military. My grandpa was in the military; one of my best friends served three terms in Iraq. it has nothing to do with that. It’s about what is going on around the country, and fortunately our head coach supports us. I read his comments, that means a lot.

“I don’t know [if we’ll keep sitting]. I didn’t think about it before the game. [Ravens safety] Tony Jefferson texted me and was like, Hey, are you going to sit today? I was like, ahhh I don’t know, probably not. And then I sat and Bush sat and Alex [Okafor], my best friend, he was like, I’m sitting with you, [Punter] Thomas Morstead walks over and puts his hand on Bush’s shoulders. [Coby] Fleener walks over. AP [Adrian Peterson] sits, Mark [Ingram] sits, Cam [Jordan] sits, I’m pretty sure if the whole team would have been alert, we all would have sat. You could see guys turn around, looking like, I should go sit, but it’s already in the middle of the song, so I’m not going to sit. We wanted to show unity, but at the same time we want to spread awareness.”

Andrew Whitworth, T, Rams
Age 34, 12th NFL season
Hometown: Monroe, La.

Whitworth played Thursday night, before the president’s comments.

“I saw the president’s comments when I picked my phone up Friday night and saw the social media buzz. Honestly, my first thought was, ‘Oh no.’  I really had fear. I didn’t know where it would lead. And now, I hope for unity. I hope for guys to support each other. Let’s find ways to unify, to find common ground.

“Will I kneel or sit? No. That doesn’t mean I’m not 100 percent in support of the players who choose to demonstrate in some way. But this is why I will stand: My high school best friend, Lee Deal from West Monroe, La., was a soldier in the Navy killed in Iraq the year I was drafted in Cincinnati. I’ve got a tattoo on my back of his gravestone. The national anthem, for me, I always get really emotional. I get to play this game, and my brother—my close friend, who served this country on a special reconnaissance team and earned a Purple Heart—doesn’t get to be here. So I will always stand, and get emotional … as a tribute to Lee.

“For me, who I am, what I’m about, it’s about people loving each other. There is inequality in this country. I don’t know all the facts, but I 100 percent believe there is racial inequality that must be addressed. The president made it personal. He went after a group of people, a special group of people. He attacked personally. Attacking people the way he did is not the way to improve the world.”

Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints
Age 22, first season in the league
Hometown: Norcross, Ga.

Kamara sat during anthem with nine teammates.

“[Trump’s comments] were just a little disheartening. For me and the other guys that sat, I think we just felt like that was something we had to do. We felt pretty strongly about it and that was the way we chose to display how we felt about it.

“It wasn’t [premeditated]. When we came out and we got to the sideline, guys were coming up to each other, like, you gonna sit? You gonna sit? That’s how it happened, and I think it was a pretty clear message. It was an emotional moment. You close your eyes and just think about it. I played Trump’s remarks back in my head and it’s like Ooof, all these guys work hard, and for that comment to be made it’s a little disheartening. But we made our point.

“I think it is going to continue. A lot of the players in this league, we have a large platform to get our points across and to support our causes and speak out on what we believe in. As long as we have that platform, guys are going to take advantage of it to get a positive message across and put on display what they feel.”

Johnson Bademosi, DB, Patriots
Age 27, sixth season in the league
Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Bademosi knelt for the anthem.

“Obviously the [president’s] comments were unfortunate and unmerited. I’ll keep it at that. We talked a lot about it, with teammates, with our owner, with a lot of people in the organization. We had their support. I’m not going to get into specifics. But we all decided to do something together because it’s important to be together and stay together. [The decision to kneel was about] wanting to be there for my teammates and wanting to be there for my community. It was a group decision.

“I think our president attacked everybody. He attacked players. He attacked owners. He attacked the game. He attacked the league. There are plenty of people who have wanted to take a knee but have for some reason decided not to. After those comments, obviously we’ve seen more people take a knee than we’ve seen before. I can just speak for myself: I respect our military. I respect our police force. I have friends in the military, friends who are police. It’s not about that. It’s about what’s going on in the country as far as inequities and so forth.”

Coby Fleener, TE, Saints
Age 29, sixth season in the league

Hometown: Lemont, Ill.

Fleener stood with his arm on teammate Craig Robertson’s shoulders as Robertson sat.

“The president’s comments hit me hard. I thought they were wrong, legally and from a moral standpoint. To see those guys, the guys I’ve worked with and poured out lots and lots of effort to earn the right to be on this field, I felt like it was my responsibility morally, and as a teammate, to show that was not acceptable and not right.”

On why he put his hand on Robertson: “It had been on everyone’s minds since the comments were made, and seeing them there, my heart poured out for them. That is a tough spot to be in, so I wanted to support them as best as I could.”

On Trump: “He is the president of the United States and I hope that he would do a different job representing the United States in the future, but he also has the right to free speech and so, if I stand for these guys or kneel for these guys, it is within his rights to speak freely as well.”

On Trump’s comment about safety measures ruining the game: “I think it is narrow-sighted. It’s probably selfish in some regard, and it is definitely not thinking about others. Having some level of empathy would be helpful in that regard. Even sympathy. Unfortunately it seems to be par for the course, and we have to deal with it as this point.”

“I think everyone as an America is granted the right to free speech, so to try to stand in front of that or pretend that that right somehow doesn’t apply to certain classes of people or certain races, or anybody else, I think that doesn’t make sense.”

Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
Age 27, seventh season in the league
Hometown: Hackensack, NJ

Ingram sat for the anthem.

 “None of us have ever really protested or sat down or anything. We just felt like after yesterday, a few of us felt strongly, and we needed to make a stand. We were asking each other. We wanted it to be a whole thing. I feel like if you have some people doing it and some people not that it makes the division more. We wanted to do something as a team that unified us as one, but we didn’t really talk about it.

Democrat, Republican, liberal, whatever you are. I’m a Christian. When I feel something isn’t right, I just want to bring awareness to it. It’s just a crazy topic. To all those fans that say we’re not—for [Trump] to get that angry, and he didn’t get angry at any other protest, you know, he never cussed at them—we’re doing something peaceful and positive and trying to bring equality to this country and world. In order to make this country great again like he says—that’s his phrase—we all need to be together.

“[Fans] were saying ‘Stand up, losers,’ and all that. You know that’s going to come. I’m sure if you look at social media they’re MF-ing us and telling us we’re the worst type of Americans. But I love my country, and I want the best for my country, and [Trump] claims he wants the best for his country. Make America Great Again, that’s his slogan and how he got elected. In order for us to be great again as a country, and not have all this racism and bigotry and injustice, we all just need to realize that there is a problem and be there for each other to try to correct the problem.”

Christian Covington, DE, Texans
Age 23, third NFL season
Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.,

Covington locked arms with teammates for the anthem.

“All I can say is, I gotta bring it back to a religious angle: We need Jesus. [Laughs.] At the end of the day, we wanna promote love. We want to promote unity. We don’t want to be divisive by any means. We locked arms in solidarity, to show a united front. At the end of the day, that’s just about us promoting love. We talked about it with regards to the leaders on this team. We were informed that we were going to do it before the game.

“The [president’s] comments were the comments. I’ll just leave it at that. From my perspective, you have to just say that right is right and wrong is wrong. I’m not here to judge anybody. I’m not here to criticize anybody. I just live off the basis of right is right and wrong is wrong. All I can do is keep promoting love and keep promoting unity. That’s it.

“First and foremost, we’re American citizens. Each and every one of us. As athletes, we’ve worked our way to be professional athletes. I think that’s something that keeps getting skipped over. With that being said, I’m not here to by any means say that if you have that platform you should say whatever you want. When you have that platform, it’s okay to promote love, promote unity, and call a spade a spade.”

Kelvin Beachum, T, Jets
Age 28, sixth season in the league
Hometown: Mexia, Texas

Beachum locked arms with teammates during the anthem.

“The biggest thing is, I am just happy to see the league unified. The league coming to support players, the players supporting each other. At the end of the day that’s what it’s about. It’s about us being a brotherhood and having a unified front and being supportive of each other as we make decisions and as we take stances. This is a stance that has brought national attention, but if you look in many of the communities where guys are playing or grew up in, they make stances on certain issues in those communities as well. I don’t think that gets enough credit. A lot guys do a lot of great things, all across the country. Those things are never talked about. This is an issue that everyone wants to talk about, but guys are doing things in their communities to try to combat some of the systemic issues that are going on.

“I got some messages from guys on my previous team, Pittsburgh. I heard about some of the things that they were talking about doing. So you know that guys across the league are supporting each other. We are strategizing as best we can to combat the situation and combat some of the backlash that is coming. But at the same time, again, trying to go at it from a unified front.

“As a team, we talked about, whatever we did we’d do it together. Our goal as a team has been one team, one goal. So to come out and have a unified front today was great. And to get a win as a united front and as one team, one goal, it was special. It was about us united. Our mindset was that whatever we were going to do, we were going to do it as one team.

“We are all communicating. Guys that know each other. This didn’t just start this week. It’s been going on for some time now. [But think week it was] enough is enough. At the end of the day we are trying to take care of the issues that are at hand. When you get backed into a corner and you keep getting punched, you have to come out fighting. Well, not fighting, but come and make a stand. And I think it was time. But the thing is, it’s not just about making a stand. What are the action items? What are the solutions? We have to find solutions—people, teams, players across the league. Not only players, but people in society are thinking about ways to find solutions for this particular situation.”

Laremy Tunsil, T, Dolphins
Age 23, second season in the league
Hometown: Lake City, FL

Tunsil knelt for the anthem.

“You’ve seen the interview, you’ve seen how disrespectful it is for a United States President to call us sons of bitches because we are standing up for our rights. So we wanted to take a knee today. Before that, I wasn’t into taking a knee. I would just stand back on the side and relax, because I knew the whole system is corrupt anyway. But for him to come out and say that we are some of sons of bitches, now I will stand up for my rights. You get to a certain point where you just say that’s it, and I got to that certain point. I wanted to represent everybody, so I took a knee.

“Our biggest thing was just staying together as a whole team. That’s what we talked about last night. We all wanted to link arms, but certain individual wanted to take a knee. And so I decided to take a knee because I wanted to stand up for my rights. A lot of people probably won’t understand where we are coming from, don’t understand how we feel. They’ll judge us, we know that. But I am just standing up for my rights and for what I feel is right.

“[Trump’s comments that the league is too safe] tells you that the system is corrupt. They look at us as entertainment. They look at us as amusement. They look at like we are not humans. We’re just running around the field for their entertainment. For him to say that, that’s just disrespect. He’s looking at us like we don’t exist as people. That’s how I look at it. So I’m standing up for my rights. I’m standing up for my everything.”

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