Players discuss why they took action during anthem

Players across the NFL took part in protests and displays of unity during the national anthem prior to their respective games on Sunday.

The actions came two days after President Trump said at a political rally on Friday that team owners should fire players who do not stand during the national anthem. The NFL and NFL Players Association issued responses to Trump's comments on Saturday, and team owners have been responding throughout the weekend.

Following their games on Sunday, players and coaches talked about why they decided to take action during the national anthem:

Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks

"At the end of the day it's about coming together and collaborating and figuring out how to unite people together. I think as a team, we did that today. We showed that we have compassion for each other and we showed where we stand. We stand for equality. We stand for all that. So it was pretty exciting to be a part of something that was revolutionary as far as the whole NFL. It's people coming together as one. It didn't matter our race. It didn't matter our politics. It didn't matter religion. We came together and we united. We showed that we have power as people. And that's what we were doing today and I think that was super impressive."

Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks

"There isn't liberty and justice for all. I think guys for a while -- at least a year now -- have been protesting that by taking a knee, sitting down, putting up a fist, etc. etc. Their voices were watered down. They were drowned out by the noise because people were saying 'Oh you're kneeling during the national anthem.' But these are the same people that today during the Patriots game were booing guys during the national anthem. But they don't see that as disrespectful. It's really a strange hypocrisy that we see. So as a team we wanted to do our best to not ostracize our guys, any of our individuals, allow them to feel welcomed and not make them uncomfortable. That's the worst thing you can do as a teammate is put your teammate in an uncomfortable position. We don't go out, the whole team doesn't come out, then it's easier for them to defend themselves. Say 'Hey, it's a team decision. I just did what the team did.' You're a good teammate. Perfect, fine. But if you get out there and ask a guy to kneel or sit, [he's] going against his values, going against his family, you put him in a weird spot. We never wanted to do that. We think we did a good job getting our message out and trying not to distract from it."

Von Miller, Denver Broncos

Devin McCourty, New England Patriots

"A lot of guys felt all over the place by the comments by the president Friday night. As a leader on this team a lot of guys came to me. They didn't know what to do. They were just kind of angry. [On Saturday] we all talked as a group, releasing that anger and not being angry. ... A lot of guys talked about understanding that in our faith God's first, and we wanted to come together and first and foremost we hate that people will see it that we don't respect our military, the men and women who 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 that people will see it that way and guys have family members, fathers, mothers, brothers and 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 stand for the disrespect and the different wants guys felt and so many different things going through guys heads. It was unique to see guys come together and bond together as a group before the game."

"All of us want a message that goes out of unity, being together, obviously as a team but also as a fraternity of NFL players. ... 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 by everybody. ... I'm proud of our guys."

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin

"The big thing is that we remain united. These teams, man, this game of football is a unique one. We're all blessed to be part of it, man. We all get tolerences because of people that are different, because of our association with ball. I think anybody that's involved with ball has a high level of tolerance, has a high level of understanding. We feel bad (for those) who aren't involved in football. Who don't have the opportunity to have a brother that is very different next to him that he can rely on to gain understanding."

"We will not be divided by this. We got a group of men in there who come from different social-economic, backgrounds, races, creeds, ethnicities and religions and so forth. That's football. That's a lot of team sports. But because of our position, we get drug into the bull----, to be quite honest with you. And so some have opinions, some don't. We wanted to protect those that don't, we wanted to protect those that do. We came here for a football game today, and that was our intentions."

Donald Penn, Oakland Raiders

"No, we didn't necessarily lead the group. I mean, we're all on the same page. We're all on the same thing. I wish I didn't have to do anything like that. I've been standing (for the national anthem) all the time, but when you get called out personally by the president of your country, you know you've got to do something. I didn't want to do that. I don't think my teammates wanted to do that, but it's something we had to do, man. This stuff is getting out of hand, you know. It's getting out of hand. I don't really want to talk about it and give him that much more of my time because it's getting out of hand. We've got disasters going on in Florida and Puerto Rico and Houston's still trying to rebuild and he's talking about us, a silent, peaceful protest. When the people in Charlottesville had all this, he didn't call them sons of b------, he didn't call them a-------, you know what I mean? ... He didn't say it about them, other people. We're doing peaceful ... everything we're doing is peaceful. You look at how much money J.J. Watt raised in Houston and stuff like that. We're doing stuff positive. You wanna call us out. [There's] something else he can talk about besides us and what we're doing. That's what my whole thing is."

"I'm not going to do it next week. I didn't want to do it this week. ... I respect the military. It had nothing to do with the military. I have the utmost respect for them. Because you will not see me over there shooting no guns. So I have so much respect for those guys and what they do. It had nothing to do with them. I hope they understand that. It had nothing to do with them. This all had to do with President Trump's comments and that's the only reason why we did that."

Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens

"Personally, I think the comments made about my brothers [who] decided to protest and kneel is kind of what made us no longer be silent. We stand with our brothers. They have the right to protest. We knelt with them today. Non-violent protest is as American as it gets. We knelt with them today and let them know we are a unified front. There is no dividing us. I guess we're all sons of b------."

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

"Do I think there's inequality in this country? Yes, I do. Do I think that there's racism? Yes, I do. Do I think there's inequality for women, for women in the workplace? I think that there's inequality for people of color, for minorities, for immigrants. And as it pertains to the national anthem, I will always feel that if you're an American, the national anthem is the opportunity for us all to stand up together, to be unified and to show respect for our country. To show respect for what it stands for, the birth of our nation. There will always be issues with our country, there will always be things that we are battling. And we should always be striving to make those things better. But if the protest becomes that we're going to sit down and kneel or not show respect to the flag of the United States of America and everything that it symbolizes, everything that it stands for, everything that our country has been through to get to this point, I do not agree with that. I feel like that is a unified thing. The national anthem, the standing for the national anthem and looking at the flag with your hand over your heart is a unified thing that should bring us all together and say, you know what? We know that things are not where they should be, but we will continue to work and strive to make things better. To bring equality to all people -- men, women, no matter what your race creed religion -- equality for all. If you're [an] American, then I will always believe that we should be standing, showing respect to our flag with our hand over our heart."

DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns

"Once again this is a tragedy in our country that we have to sit here and have these discussions. I know for a fact I'm no son of a b---- and I plan on continuing to [go] forward and doing whatever I can from my position to promote the equality that's needed in this country."

Michael Thomas, Miami Dolphins

"You're the leader of the free world, that's what you're talking about? As a man, as a father, as an African-American man, as somebody in the NFL who's one of those son of b------, you know, yeah, I took it personally. But like I said in my Twitter post, it's bigger than me. You know what I'm saying? It's bigger than me. I got a daughter, she's going to have to live in this world. You know what I'm saying? And I'm going to do whatever I got to do to make sure she can look at her dad and say, 'hey, you did something to try to make a change.'"

LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

"I mean, a lot has been going on. America, we stand together. And that's something that all the players have been talking about before this game," McCoy told NFL Network's Tom Pelissero after the Bills 26-16 win over the Broncos. "So we decided to take a knee as a team. One thing about us football players is that we learn that team bond. We want to show and kind of display something to America that we can come together. That's what this country is all about."

McCoy had this message for President Trump:

"Be a president. Be respectful, man. Us Americans, we're together. Stop trying to divide us. That's the biggest thing and it showed today. From guys taking knees to guys touching shoulders, showing that we're all in this together. We want the best for this country no matter what race. We want the best for this country."

Tom Brady, New England Patriots

"Like I said, I speak for myself. I believe what I believe. You guys know me. I'm a very positive person, so I try to just live by example and say positive things about people. I try to control my own emotions, and no matter what anyone says, I'm going to have a positive outlook, certainly with my teammates. We all go through ups and downs and there's struggles and it's life and we're all trying to navigate it as best we can. So, I believe that love is the greatest thing we have that overcomes a lot of things.

"I mean, everybody could do whatever they want to do. I don't care what the owners do. I care about my teammates, and like I said, the belief that I have in them and the love I have for them."

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

"It's all about unity. People on the outside, they are like 'take a knee, do this, do that.' You know, you can't be individuals. Everybody here, including our owner, our whole organization, if we are going to do something, we are going to do it together. It's not one guy. At the end of the day, I'm a grown man, I can easily take a knee. But, it's a unit thing. We are not divided here. It's not some guys believe it, some guys don't. We all believe in what we believe in. We are all together. We are going to stick together regardless."

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

"I used social media this morning to address some of that. On this team, we're going to keep choosing love over hate, unity over division. That's what it was to us in talking last night and this morning. The few of us who linked arms just wanted to show a united front. I know personally on my Twitter and social media, was receiving a lot of positivity but a lot of hatred as well, which was interesting. It's probably one-tenth or one-one-hundredth of some of my black teammates who've been using their platform to try and make a difference. But again, this was about unity. We respect our men and women in uniform. We respect our troops. We love them. We appreciate what they do for us. Today was about using our platform to promote love and unity and acceptance and togetherness, and I hope we did that."

K.J. Wright, Seattle Seahawks

"I believe we made history. When statements are made like that, I am glad that we have the opportunity to come together, show the country that we are not going to stand for that. We have our rights, and we are going to exercise those rights, no one is going to take that away from us. And we are showing the young generation how it is going to be. Like I said, we are going to be the next Jim Brown, the next Kareem, those athletes that stood up for injustice. So I am glad we are the team to do that, and guys across the NFL."

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

"We wanted to do something as a team. We're such a tight-knit group. Our thought was, last year we did something and locked arms and that was I thought very good. Then we wanted to figure out how can we do something as a whole team, collective effort, to show the injustice in America for people needs to be fixed. I think we have so many players who do such a great job in the community and represent the Seattle Seahawks really well, represent their families really well, try to do things to help change our community one person at a time, one individual at a time. I think there were a lot of guys that really, really wanted to do something and try to make a difference. I definitely was one of them too. I wanted to do something where we could do something unified. We believe in love. We believe in helping trying to, the only way we can defeat the hate is by loving people. That's what we believe in."

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio

"I'm sure there will be questions about what everyone wants to ask around the league about the anthem and those kinds of stories and all that. I love that group of men. I respect that group of men. We're unified and there's some guys that feel strongly about taking a stance. Over the several days, I think that became apparent that there's nothing wrong with expressing yourself in a peaceful manner like they've done. So we chose to be unified. If they didn't have the kickoff so close to the anthem, we probably would have stayed in instead of going out. But that's the way we handled it. Was it a problem? I don't think so. I think the problem was the Redskins outplayed us tonight."

Josh Norman, Washington Redskins

"It's not about the flag, man. We love it. We want to be here. This is our country. We were born here, we were bred here. This is what we're about. Nobody is spitting on the flag or disrespecting it. We know you gave your life for it and our gratitude to your service is deeply endeared. Understand that. But if somebody comes on your front porch and takes a piss, as a man what are you going to do? Sit there and watch him pee? Or are you going to step outside and be like, 'Hey, what are you doing, sir? You're on private property. You've gotta get off, or we'll make you get off.'"

Eric Wood, Buffalo Bills

"I think the point was we released a statement as a team so we can always kind of refer back to that so if guys got tongue-tied and didn't want to say something controversial or didn't want to face any scrutiny they could say 'Just refer to team statement' which is we believe in love and equality, everybody on our team respects one another. During that hour, we didn't come to a conclusion of everybody's going to stand and hold arms or whatever the different things that could've been presenting to relay our message. So ultimately, we decided 'Hey if you want to kneel, you can kneel. If you want to stand, you can stand. But put your arm on somebody to show that we all support each other.' And we felt like that was the best thing to do in the short amount of time to create the least amount of distraction for our team but still allow guys to take their stance."

"It's kind of fighting fire with fire. The president is polarizing the use of that language at a rally. I don't know if it was calculated or not. But he said it and guys took strong offense to it. As a player that's not affected by the issues and has never thought about taking a knee -- and I wouldn't -- it made me even feel a certain type of way. He's attacking the NFL community. And there's a lot of backlash: stick to football, stick to football, stick to football. And I did that. But then on Tuesdays when you have a ton of players out in the community and so many of us have foundations that try and do so much outside of football. It would be weary to say 'Hey guys. I'm going to stick to football.' Because there is a ton of good that comes about the work we do in the community. So, I get it. Guys don't want to hear what we have to say on a political basis. I get it. But we also have a lot of intelligent men on our team that if they weren't in a football uniform they would probably be speaking their mind and highly successful in anything they would be doing anyway and their voices would be heard. Like I said, it's just a really controversial, polarizing time for us."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick

"I have immense respect and admiration for our players, for how they conduct themselves professionally as New England Patriots and for how they represent themselves, their families and community as men. I have coached football for over four decades and one of the greatest things about being in this environment is the diversity of people, backgrounds, viewpoints and relationships we are fortunate to experience. As with any large group of people, there is a variety of perspectives and opinions on many topics. Discussions occur between myself, individual players, groups and the entire team on an ongoing basis. They concern the team and other issues surrounding the team. I am going to keep the specifics of those conversations private. I will do what I feel is best for the team in my role as head coach and collectively, we will work together to find the best way to proceed."

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