The NFL season is barely underway, but already the focus is being taken away from the field and directed at the sidelines.
Colin Kaepernick started protesting racist police practices and behavior by sitting during the national anthem ahead of preseason games, but as the regular season starts the stakes — and his protest’s visibility — are that much higher.
On the day when the country observed the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, what was the reaction during the season-opening NFL games?
Miami Dolphins @ Seattle Seahawks
At least four Miami Dolphins declined to stand during the anthem Sunday ahead of their season opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
— James Walker (@JamesWalkerNFL) September 11, 2016
Jelani Jenkins, Arian Foster, Michael Thomas, and Kenny Stills knelt next to each other in a line which included their standing teammates. The Dolphins lost the game 10-12.
Model Kate Upton took umbrage with the protest, suggesting that it was “unacceptable” and that Americans should “support each other” on 9/11.
She later tweeted that she supported the players’ right to protest, just “not the time during the anthem and on 9/11”
The Dolphins released the following statement prior to kickoff:
“We encourage all members of our organization to stand at attention during the national anthem out of respect and appreciation for the freedoms we are afforded as Americans. We also recognize that it’s an individual’s right to reflect during the anthem in different ways. We respect these liberties and appreciate the sacrifices that everyone has made for our country, especially on this day of remembrance. We hope today’s events will continue a respectful and thoughtful dialogue in our community on unity, inclusiveness and togetherness.”
San Diego Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs
Standing arm in arm with his teammates, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters took a different take on the protest, raising a gloved fist, in a pose reminiscent of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Peters had previously spoken of his “100 percent” support of Kaepernick’s stance.
The Chiefs beat the Chargers 33-27.
New England Patriots @ Arizona Cardinals
Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots both echoed Peters’ raised-fist protest ahead of their upset 23-21 win over the Cardinals in Arizona.
Kaepernick also retweeted a picture purporting to show several members of a high school team, Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg, MD, kneeling during the anthem.
The Twittersphere was divided between support and condemnation for the athlete.
“So much respect for Kaepernick and all the other athletes standing up for what they believe is right, regardless of what people will say,” one user tweeted.
Others noted the loaded date, saying that it was particularly “disrespectful” not to honor the anthem on 9/11.
Protest started preseason
Ahead of Sunday’s games, Kaepernick’s teammate Eric Reid and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane had shown their support with similar protests, as has NWSL’s Megan Rapinoe, who knelt in solidarity with Kaepernick before the Washington Spirit shut down her protest by altering the pre-game ceremony.
Also in preseason, Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall knelt during the national anthem before Thursday night’s 21-20 win over the Carolina Panthers, his actions costing him an endorsement deal with the Air Academy Federal Credit Union.
Outside of the nation’s sporting arenas, a Navy sailor posted a video of herself sitting during the national anthem at a Florida military base last week. She could face punishment after her post went viral.
Kaepernick himself continued his protest, which originated ahead of a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers when his team met the San Diego Chargers in pre-season in a subsequent preseason game, kneeling alongside Reid. He had previously sat out the anthem ahead of other preseason games, but during those occasions had not dressed.
The quarterback’s protest has evolved from remaining seated during the anthem to taking a knee in out of respect for the military.
He has vowed to continue to kneel during the anthem in the pre-game ceremonies of his team’s clashes this season. The 49ers host the LA Rams Monday.