J.J. Watt and Baker Mayfield have become the latest prominent league figures to address the possibility of players protesting social injustice and police brutality during the national anthem at NFL games this season.
The Texans' five-time All-Pro defensive end responded with a clarifying message Saturday to a tweet suggesting Watt would not kneel during the anthem.
Later Saturday, the Browns QB and No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft responded to an Instagram comment stating he will "absolutely" kneel during the anthem. Mayfield then issued a longer comment on the matter on his Instagram story:
“Everybody so upset about my comment doesn’t understand that kneeling was the most respectful way to support our military while also standing up for equality. I have the utmost respect for our military, cops, and people that serve OUR country. It’s about equality and everybody being treated the same because we are all human. It’s been ignored for too long and that is my fault as well for not becoming more educated and staying silent. If I lose fans, that’s okay. I’ve always spoken my mind. And that’s from the heart.”
Conversation surrounding potential mass player protests this season has increased in the past two weeks after Saints quarterback Drew Brees said in an interview that he "will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country."
Brees' comment sparked backlash from players across the sporting world, including many of his teammates. The QB apologized twice the following day and later responded to a critical tweet by President Donald Trump, saying, "We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities."
Since George Floyd's killing at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25, the Texans organization has been at the front of the conversation regarding social justice and potential protests.
On Friday, Texans coach Bill O'Brien told the Houston Chronicle that he would support Houston players who wanted to kneel in protest of police brutality during the national anthem this season and would even join them.
"The players have a right to protest, a right to be heard and a right to be who they are," O'Brien said. "They're not taking a knee because they're against our flag. They're taking a knee because they haven't been treated equally in this country for over 400 years."
O'Brien added, "I've always felt strongly about racial injustice because I was brought up that way. I believe very strongly that white people have to stand with black people in our country."
The Texans coach and general manager cancelled meetings on Tuesday so that players could attend Floyd's funeral in Houston if they wanted to; Watt was among those in attendance.
The organization, from the top down, has expressed support for players to protest, speak out and advocate for change.
"When you think about how big the issue is, if we can help make a little change in Houston, maybe it'll be like a pebble in the pond that creates a ripple," Texans chairman Cal McNair told the Chronicle. "What happened to George Floyd brought to life something that's bigger than football, and you can't ignore it. We felt like we couldn't stay silent. We felt like we had to say and do something. We want to help make changes.
"This is the right thing to do, and I think our players recognize that. We want to support our players and our community. We're all in this boat together."