FOXBORO, Mass. — Eighteen players took a knee Sunday while the national anthem was sung at Gillette Stadium. Another 15 players, including quarterback Tom Brady, linked arms, while 13 players stood alone two days after President Donald Trump made divisive remarks about the NFL and its players.
Patriots players had only protested prior to a game once before, during Week 1 of the 2016 season when safety Devin McCourty and tight end Martellus Bennett lifted their fists after “The Star-Spangled Banner” played.
McCourty, along with cornerbacks Johnson Bademosi, Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones, safeties Jordan Richards and Duron Harmon, defensive linemen Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Alan Branch, Deatrich Wise, Trey Flowers and Adam Butler, wide receiver Brandin Cooks, running backs Brandon Bolden and James White and linebackers Brandon King and Elandon Roberts, all of whom are African-American, were the 18 players who knelt prior to the Patriots’ 36-33 win over the Houston Texans.
Some players, like Branch and Gilmore, didn’t want to get into the reasons they protested.
Others did. Here are their explanations, in full.
McCourty: “I’m just going to say how I felt, and how a lot of guys felt. We were all obviously very conflicted. We knew our message would be perceived by a lot of people in a way that wasn’t what we were trying to put out. A lot of guys felt all over the place about the comments by the President Friday night.
“As a leader on the team, a lot of guys came to me and they didn’t know what to do and they were just kind of angry. It was good Saturday, we all kind of talked as a group of releasing that anger and not being angry. We were in chaplain, a lot of guys talked about understanding in our faith, God is first.
“We wanted to come together and first and foremost, we hate that people are going to see it as we don’t respect the military and the men and women that are way braver than us, that go and put their life on the line every day for us to have the right to play football. We know people are going to see it that way. Guys have family members — fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters that serve — and they were really conflicted about it. But we just wanted to send a message of unity and being together and not standing for the disrespect and different ways guys felt.
“So many different things going through a lot of guys heads and it was unique to see guys kind of come together and bond together as a group before the game, and do that. I think all of us want a message that goes out of unity, being together, obviously as a team and a fraternity of NFL players, guys talk throughout the league about that. It was great to be a part of a lot of guys trying to do the right thing. Obviously it won’t be seen as the right thing to everybody, but I think in our hearts, what we focused on the most, was that we were trying to do the right thing today.
“I’m proud of our guys and I’m proud of the group and the guys I get to go out and play football with. They are better people than they are football players.”
Harmon: “To be honest, it was just something we wanted to do as a team. I mean, to make a statement. Just a lot of craziness going on, and the more we can unify as a team and as men, it will send a positive message to the world.
“We mean it as no disrespect to the military. My grandfather was here, served 30-plus years in the Air Force, Chief Master Sergeant, and I told him before the game. And he was fine with it. It’s just trying to unify more than anything, just try to unify, man. Trying to do it in a peaceful way, and like I said, no disrespect to the military, I know what they do. I appreciate it.
“I love America. I love being here. But I gotta stand up for something. I got two sons. So, eventually, when they get old enough, they’ll understand what daddy’s doing.”
White: “I just think at a time like this, it’s just about unity. Everybody just being treated equally. Everybody has their right, their first-amendment right to freedom of speech, including the president. I think just everybody needs to come together and just stick together as one.”
Cooks: “To be honest, it’s one of those things where you want to stand with your brothers, kneel with your brothers and be by their side. One statement I would just like to make is that a lot of people think we’re disrespecting the flag and the military, but my father and uncle were Marines, and I have the utmost respect for the men and women that fight for our freedom.
“I feel conflicted in a sense, because I have no courage to do something like that, so I understand the magnitude that they’re fighting across the world for our freedom. The message we’re trying to send is that we want respect and unity, and there’s only so many ways that you can do it. We decided before the game that we were going to do it, and I’m glad we went through with it.”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images