Teams across the NFL chose to stay in the locker room for both the Star-Spangled Banner and Lift Every Voice and Sing, commonly known as the Black national anthem, during the opening Sunday schedule.
Before every game, the league also played a video highlighting the struggles Black people face in America. However Colin Kaepernick, who started the league’s protest movement in 2016, dismissed what he called NFL “propaganda” on Sunday.
“While the NFL runs propaganda about how they care about Black Life, they are still actively blackballing Eric Reid (@E_Reid35) for fighting for the Black community. Eric set 2 franchise records last year, and is one of the best defensive players in the league,” he wrote on Twitter.
Reid was the first player to join Kaepernick in his protests against anti-Black racism. The two were teammates on the San Francisco 49ers, and both men struggled to find work in the league after they left the team. Kaepernick has not played in the NFL at all since his departure from the 49ers, while Reid had to wait some times before being picked up by the Carolina Panthers. He was a strong defensive force for the team over the last two seasons, but has not been signed since leaving them earlier this year, a suspicious turn of events given he is only 28 and still in his prime playing years.
When he first joined the Panthers, Reid was selected for a “random” drug test six times in 11 weeks. Reid’s tests were not statistically impossible but they were highly improbable. According to Yahoo Sports, the chances of Reid being chosen six times in 11 weeks for random tests was 0.17%.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic only one team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, admitted fans. The Jaguars stayed in the locker room for the anthems while their opponents, the Indianapolis Colts, stood on the goalline. The Colts head coach, Frank Reich, was the only member of the team to kneel. Indianapolis Star reporter Joel Erickson estimated half the crowd stood for Lift Every Voice and Sing.
In a statement similar to those issued by other teams, the Jaguars said they decided to stay in the locker room “to continue raising awareness of racial injustice against the Black community. We understand that not everyone will agree with our position and demonstration, we hope that all will seek to understand the reason for it.”
The Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets also opted to stay in the locker room for the anthem during Sunday’s early kick-offs.
Elsewhere, Washington players decided to kneel on for the anthem, while their opponents, the Eagles, left the field.
The opening weekend came after months of anti-racism protests, following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. When another Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin last month, the protests moved to the sports world with the NBA, WNBA, MLB and MLS among the leagues postponing games in protest.
In the NFL’s opening game on Thursday night, fans at the Kansas City Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium booed a “moment of unity” as players from the home team and the Houston Texans linked arms while messages such as “We must end racism” and “We choose unconditional love” were displayed on the scoreboard.
Houston’s star defensive end, JJ Watt, who is white, said: “I mean the booing during that moment was unfortunate. I don’t fully understand that. There was no flag involved. There was nothing involved other than two teams coming together to show unity.”
Player protests have been a huge storyline in the NFL since Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem in the 2016 season, seeking to highlight racial injustice.
In June, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell admitted the league should have listened to its players earlier on the subject of racism and police brutality against Black people. Around two-thirds of NFL players are Black, while 29 of the majority owners of the league’s 32 teams are white.