CHICAGO — Rather than taking a knee, most NFL players opted for a show of unity Sunday, locking arms ahead of their games amid criticism from President Trump who slammed players opting to protest during the national anthem.
In Chicago, the Chicago Bears players and staff locked arms during the anthem. In a statement released prior to the game, the team said they are “proud to support our players, coaches and all members of our organization to bring peace and unity together through football.”
“What makes this the greatest country in the world are the liberties it was founded upon and the freedom to express oneself in a respectful and peaceful manner. Through important dialogue with our players and team, this divisive political situation has unified our franchise for the present and the future,” the team said in the statement.
As coach Mike Tomlin promised, the Pittsburg Steelers didn’t take the field for the national anthem in Chicago. But offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, a former captain in the Army and ex-Ranger who did three tours in Afghanistan, stood in the tunnel, hand over heart, as the anthem played. Tomlin had said before the game his squad would remain in the locker room.
Still, plenty opted to kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” with the Baltimore Ravens’ Terrell Suggs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike Evans among the stars following the lead of former pro quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who pioneered the anthem protests last year over what he was said was social and racial injustice.
Ahead of the morning game in London and 1 p.m. ET games, players from several teams, including the New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, the Denver Broncos and the Miami Dolphins, took knees during the anthem.
In Sunday morning tweets, Trump renewed his criticism of the protests, slamming the league’s ratings and saying players should be fired or suspended for such protests. On Saturday, he called for NFL owners to fire any “son of a bitch” who “disrespects our flag.”
“What you just saw was a variety of responses with the theme of unity,” an NFL front office source told CNN. “All across the league, owners, coaches and players came together to decide what was best for them.”
The source added, “If Trump thought he could divide the NFL, he was wrong.”
Following Sunday’s 1 p.m. kickoffs, Trump tweeted that he approved of players locking arms, saying it represented “great solidarity” for the country.
Here’s who’s been taking a stand Sunday:
Denver Broncos vs. Buffalo Bills.
Five-time Pro Bowl selection Von Miller was among several Broncos players who knelt on the sidelines, while Garett Bolles and Virgil Green stood with their fists in the air.
Multiple Buffalo Bills players stood with arms around each other on the field while some players knelt with their arms interlocked. Some of those who stood held the shoulders of other players.
New England Patriots
While most players from both teams, Tom Brady among them, opted to lock arms, more than a dozen Patriots — including running back James White, wide receiver Brandin Cooks and Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore — took knees.
In the owner’s suite above them, Patriots owner Robert Kraft stood with his hand over his heart.
Miami Dolphins vs. New York Jets
Jets head coach Todd Bowles and Dolphins owner Steve Ross both joined their teams, arms interlocked, before Sunday’s AFC East showdown.
On the Dolphins sideline, wide receiver Jarvis Landry stood during the anthem but locked arms with safety Maurice Smith and tight end Julius Thomas, both of whom knelt.
As Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins tweeted before the game, Philadelphia players locked their arms in unity. As a retired African-American serviceman, Petty Officer 1st Class Generald Wilson, belted out the anthem, Eagles CEO Jeff Lurie joined the team, locking arms with Jenkins on the sideline. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks opted not to join his team and stood off to the side during the anthem.
“Having spoken with our players, I can attest to the great respect they have for the national anthem and all it represents,” Lurie wrote. “We … firmly believe that in this difficult time of division and conflict, it is more important than ever for football to be a great unifier.”
Atlanta Falcons vs. Detroit Lions
Team owners Arthur Blank of the Falcons and Martha Firestone Ford of the Lions joined their teams on the sidelines, locking arms with their players. Starting running back Ameer Abdullah was among at least eight LIons players taking a knee during the anthem.
Detroit singer Rico Lavelle closed out his rendition of the anthem by taking a knee and holding his microphone aloft in his fist.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Minnesota Vikings
While both teams locked arms along the sidelines, Buccaneers star wide receiver Mike Evans and his counterpart DeSean Jackson knelt with their hands over their hearts. Coach Dirk Kover stood with his hand over his heart. The crowd applauded once “The Star-Spangled Banner” concluded.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Six-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ Suggs was atop the list of Ravens players taking a knee before the game in London. Alongside him was retired Ravens legend Lewis, who locked arms with wide receiver Mike Wallace and linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Other coaches and players locked arms during the anthem.
At least a dozen Jaguars took knees during the anthem, including defensive standouts Calais Campbell and Jalen Ramsey, as well as their No. 4 draft pick, running back Leonard Fournette.
The majority of players locked arms, as did the coaching staff and Pakistani-American team owner Shad Khan, who said in a statement that he met with team captains prior to the game to express his support.
“Our team and the National Football League reflects our nation, with diversity coming in many forms — race, faith, our views and our goals,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do, and we can do it, but the comments by the President make it harder. That’s why it was important for us, and personally for me, to show the world that even if we may differ at times, we can and should be united in the effort to become better as people and a nation.”