Before last weekend, the number of NFL players protesting during "The Star-Spangled Banner" was small, sometimes just one. Most were African-American. The first was former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began taking a knee during the anthem last season to protest recent police shootings.
But then President Donald Trump railed against the protesters, and by the time the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars kicked off in London on Sunday, players and coaches of every ethnic background — and even some owners — were galvanizing to make very visible statements. Here is what they did.
Three teams stayed in the locker room
Three teams didn't come onto the field for the national anthem. Two of them, the Seahawks and Titans, were playing in the same game, making for surreally empty sidelines in Nashville as Meghan Linsey sang. After "... and the home of the brave," Linsey took a knee herself.
Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin, who stood on the sideline as his team waited in the locker room before its game in Chicago, explained that the players stayed inside as a show of team unity.
"We are not going to be divided by anything said by anyone," Tomlin said before the game. "If a guy feels the need to do something, he shouldn't be separated from his teammate who chooses not to."
The only Steelers player visible during the anthem was former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva, who stood at the tunnel entrance with his hand over his heart. On Monday, Villanueva apologized and said he felt "embarrassed" for showing up the other Pittsburgh players.
Eight teams stood, together
- Arizona Cardinals
- Carolina Panthers
- Chicago Bears
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Houston Texans
- Minnesota Vikings
- New York Jets
- Philadelphia Eagles
By far, the most common position during the anthem was upright, but many players said that their literal stance was not a statement against the protesters but one of solidarity. Entire teams linked arms in defiance of what they said was an effort to divide them.
Every Chicago Bear, Houston Texan, New York Jet, Cincinnati Bengal, Minnesota Viking, Philadelphia Eagle and Carolina Panther stood, nearly all with elbows locked together with their teammates. (Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers remained in the locker room.) On Monday night in Arizona, the Cowboys and Cardinals all stood, arms linked, surrounding a massive flag that was nearly as big as the field. Before the anthem, the Cowboys players, coaches and owner Jerry Jones locked arms and took a knee, as fans booed. But they stood again before Jordin Sparks began to sing.
As Eagles defensive end Chris Long framed the sentiment, "We live in a wonderful country, and that's what makes that flag special, the fact that you are able to protest it."
On 11 teams, a handful of players knelt
Sprinkled among the lines of players standing arm-in-arm on some sidelines, a few sat on the bench or knelt next to teammates, as Kaepernick and others had done in previous games. These included half a dozen or so Colts, Chargers, Redskins, Dolphins, Jaguars and Lions.
The Buffalo Bills walked together toward midfield, then about 10 players took a knee during the anthem (and running back LeSean McCoy did a bit of stretching).
Sometimes, the message was literally spelled out. During pregame warmups, several Miami Dolphins wore T-shirts that read "#ImWithKap." Bills running back Mike Tolbert's shirt said "Everybody vs. Injustice."
Four teams mostly sat or kneeled
Most players from the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos chose to remain seated on the bench or kneel during the anthem, including the Raiders' entire offensive and defensive lines. Raiders who stood, including quarterback Derek Carr and Coach Jack Del Rio, locked arms. A few Chiefs and Broncos players stood next to their teammates.
Four teams had no clear consensus
That's not to say that the teams weren't unified — but they expressed themselves in different ways as opposed to a united front.
As long snapper and Navy lieutenant Joe Cardona stood at attention, about 20 Patriots took a knee and locked arms, as others, including quarterback Tom Brady, locked arms while standing nearby. Brady, whom Trump has name-dropped as a friend in the past, called the president's comments "divisive" in a Monday interview with a Boston radio station and said, "I just want to support my teammates. I am never one that says, 'Oh, that's wrong', or 'that's right,' but I do believe in what I believe in. I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust."
About 10 Saints players sat on the bench during the anthem, others kneeled, and still others stood with their hands on the shoulders of those kneeling. At least 20 Browns took a knee. About a dozen Ravens took a knee as well, and among them was former linebacker Ray Lewis, who had been critical of Kaepernick in the past.
Ten owners stood with players
On a typical game day, owners watch from above in their climate-controlled boxes. But the first national anthem Sunday began with Shahid Khan of the Jaguars standing on the field, arms linked with players, and the last one of the day ended with Daniel M. Snyder doing the same with his Redskins a few miles from the White House.
In between, owners of teams from Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Miami and Atlanta stood on the sidelines, shoulder-to-shoulder with players and coaches.
And Monday evening, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones went a step further, taking a knee with his players and coaches before the anthem began.
It was an awkward stance for some who had donated large sums of money to Trump's campaign and inauguration committee, including Khan and Snyder. One, acting Jets owner Christopher Johnson, is temporarily running the team because Trump appointed his brother Woody Johnson ambassador to the United Kingdom.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a friend of Trump's, did not take the field but issued a statement saying he was "deeply disappointed" in Trump's words.
"There is no greater unifier in this country than sports and, unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics," said Kraft. "Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful."