- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 13, 2020

LANDOVER — Some teams stayed in their locker rooms during the national anthem. Many players took a knee. Or sat. Or stood and raised fists. Some owners put out damage-control statements. But across the NFL on Sunday, it was clear that social activism and commentary would play a bigger role this season than in years past.

In Washington, at FedEx Field, the Philadelphia Eagles were one of at least seven team that stayed put in the locker room during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Across the field, Washington players stood, with some, including quarterback Dwayne Haskins, holding fists in the air.

Prior to the national anthem, Washington staged its own demonstration as a team against racial injustice, kneeling while the names of those injured or killed in interactions with police scrolled down the team’s videoboards at FedEx Field.

The protest followed a moment of unity between Washington and Philadelphia. The two teams locked arms to form an oval around midfield during the playing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the spiritual song, often referred to as “the Black national anthem,” that the NFL will play at stadiums this year.

With no fans in the stands, Washington’s demonstration was held in silence. During Thursday’s game between the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chief, fans at Arrowhead Stadium booed when the two teams met for a moment of unity at midfield prior to kickoff.

Overnight ratings for the Thursday game showed a 16.1% drop in the key 18-49 demographic and an overall 16.4 million viewers — a 10-year audience low for the NFL’s week-night season opener.

In Baltimore, a majority of Ravens players kneeled or sat on the bench during the national anthem, including quarterback Lamar Jackson, who took a knee. Owner Steve Bisciotti, who stood during the anthem, issued a statement defending the protests that until this year most NFL owners had tried to tamp down.

“This was not a protest against our country, the military or the flag. Our players remain dedicated to uplifting their communities and making America better,” he said.

Washington coach Ron Rivera said Thursday that his team had plans to discuss how they would handle the national anthem — and he’s said he is OK if his players take a knee.

“The biggest thing that I just said to them, I said: ‘This has to be about respecting each other’s choice of what to do,’” Rivera said. “I think that’s the most important thing. It’s funny because people say, ‘Oh, you should all kneel together.’ Or, ‘You shouldn’t kneel because it doesn’t show team unity.’ Well, I think that’s wrong. I think if half your team kneels and half your team stands and everybody respects that, that’s team unity.

“That to me really is because I am mature enough to respect your right as an American — the First Amendment — to kneel and you respect my right to stand.”

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