By The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — NFL players used the national anthem to show their defiance to President Donald Trump’s criticism, with at least 100 players kneeling or sitting in protest and one team staying in the locker room.
Most teams in the early afternoon games locked arms in solidarity. At least three team owners joined their players.
More than 100 players sat or knelt, the form of protest started last season by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick is now a free agent, and supporters believe teams have avoided signing him because of his protest.
The Pittsburgh Steelers remained in the locker room as the national anthem played before their game with the Chicago Bears. Coach Mike Tomlin stood by himself on the sideline.
How each team would observe the national anthem emerged as the center of attention on this NFL Sunday in the wake of Trump’s critical remarks toward players who don’t stand for the anthem.
Tomlin had said before the game that Pittsburgh’s players would remain in the locker room and that “we’re not going to let divisive times or divisive individuals affect our agenda.” Tomlin added that the Steelers made this choice “not to be disrespectful to the anthem but to remove ourselves from this circumstance. People shouldn’t have to choose.”
Earlier, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a tweet that the league will re-air a unity television advertisement Sunday night that it first ran during February’s Super Bowl.
The one-minute spot called “Inside These Lines,” will be shown during the Sunday night game between the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins.
Over images and video of NFL players embracing one another on the field, the narrator says “Inside these lines, we don’t have to come from the same place to help each other reach the same destination.”
Goodell said that President’s Trump’s remarks about the NFL demonstrated “an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL.”
Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagilabue called President Donald Trump’s comments on NFL players “insulting and disgraceful.”
Tagliabue, who was in Charlotte, North Carolina, as a guest of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, spoke to the media before Carolina’s game against the New Orleans Saints.
“For me to single out any particular group of players and call them SOB’s, to me, that is insulting and disgraceful,” Tagliabue said. “So I think the players deserve credit for what they do. And when it comes to speech they are entitled to speak. And we are entitled to listen. We are entitled to agree or disagree. But we’re not entitled to shut anybody’s speech down. Sometimes you don’t like what you hear and that is true in life in lots of contexts, but you can’t shut people down and be disgraceful when you are doing it.”
Richardson is not making a statement on the Trump’s remarks, per team spokesman Steven Drummond.
A handful of Miami Dolphins players wore black T-shirts supporting free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick during pregame warm-ups.
The shirts have “#IMWITHKAP” written in bold white lettering on the front.
Kaepernick was the first athlete to refuse to stand during the national anthem as a protest. This season, no team has signed him, and some supporters believe NFL owners are avoiding him because of the controversy.
Among the players sporting the shirts before their game against the New York Jets are wide receiver Kenny Stills, running back Jay Ajayi and offensive linemen Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James. Stills, also a team captain, posted a photo on Twitter of himself wearing the shirt , along with the post: “In case you didn’t know!”