There was a lot more standing and a lot less kneeling at Sunday’s NFL games in what could be viewed as a victory for team unity or President Trump, depending on your perspective.
About 50 players — 30 of those from the San Francisco 49ers — took knees during the national anthem on Sunday, far below the estimated 200 who knelt or sat last weekend in a show of protest during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The vast majority of players stood — in some cases locking arms with teammates and coaches — as the anthem was played. Several teams knelt in unison before the anthem was played, then stood.
The drop-off came after a backlash that saw some fans burn jerseys and vowed to stop watching games in reaction to last weekend’s protests, which spiked after Mr. Trump suggested at a Sept. 23 rally that team owners should fire players who refuse to stand.
Some players found other ways to protest: About 15 raised their fists either during the anthem or afterward, while Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch wore a T-shirt before the game saying, “Everybody-vs-Trump,” then sat on the bench as the anthem played.
In London, three Miami Dolphins players took knees during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” sung by Darius Rucker, then stood for the British anthem “God Save the Queen.”
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who had previously described some of the president’s comments as “unacceptable,” raised a fist in the end zone after scoring a touchdown.
The take-a-knee displays drew boos in some stadiums. Fans could be heard booing during the 49ers’ protest before their game against the Cardinals in Arizona.
Even when teams knelt before and not during the national anthem, some fans were in no mood. There was booing as some players on the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars knelt before the anthem of their respective games, even though all the players stood up for it.
The 49ers are the former team of Colin Kaepernick, the now-unsigned quarterback who became a polarizing figure during the 2016 season for refusing to stand for the national anthem in a show of protest against police treatment of black men.
The 49ers released a statement prior to their half-standing, half-kneeling configuration, saying the team had chosen to “publicly display our unity in a new way and, in turn, urge others to do the same.”
“For more than a year, members of our team have protested the oppression and social injustices still present in our society,” said the team statement. “While some may not have taken a knee or raised a fist, we have all shared the desire to influence positive change.”
On Saturday, Trump doubled down with a tweet urging players to stand at Sunday’s games, saying “Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our National Anthem. Respect our Flag and our Country!”
The protests put NFL owners in a bind, caught between supporting their protesting players and alienating some fans.
New York Giants owner John Mara asked his players at a Wednesday meeting to stand during the anthem, but did not order them to do so, after three players took a knee last weekend.
On Sunday, only one Giants player — defensive end Olivier Vernon — knelt for the anthem, while two others raised fists.
“Basically, John Mara told us he can’t ask us to do anything, really,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas told the New York Post on Thursday. “He just requests we stand. If he had any request, that would be a request of his. But he also said if anyone here, anyone in the locker room, feels like they want to kneel or feels that they have to kneel, he’ll be supportive of anybody that decides to do that. Honestly, as a player in this league, with everything that’s going on, you can’t really ask for more than that.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Sunday that Trump has a point about the protests, noting that many Americans see anthem protests as showing disrespect for the military.
“I think clearly people have a right to express themselves … but what so many Americans — I see this at home — see is you’re disrespecting the idea of America that we want to make this free country, a more perfect union and that people have died and fought and survived to protect it,” Ryan said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Recent polls have shown most of those surveyed somewhat or strongly disapprove of the take-a-knee protests. A CBS poll found those disapprove-approve split at 52-38 percent, while an ESPN survey put it at 51-39 percent.
⦁ Matthew Paras and Alex Swoyer contributed to this report.