CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CBS News/WNCN/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 entire 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.
All Carolina Panthers players stood for the national anthem before their game against the New Orleans Saints in Charlotte on Sunday afternoon, WFMY reported. However, at least a dozen players from New Orleans remained seated during the song.
Earlier, about 24 players, took a knee during the playing of the national anthem before the start of the teams’ game at Wembley Stadium on Sunday in London.
No players were kneeling during the playing of the British national anthem.
Other players on one knee during the performance included Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley, wide receiver Mike Wallace and safety Lardarius Webb as well as Jaguars linebacker Dante Fowler, defensive tackle Calais Campbell, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
Players on both teams and Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who were not kneeling, remained locked arm-in-arm throughout the playing of the national anthem.
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.”
The owners of the Baltimore Ravens, the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and other teams on Sunday joined a chorus of NFL executives criticizing President Donald Trump’s suggestion that they fire players who kneel for the national anthem.
The statements, from Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, contrasted a morning tweet from Trump and further escalated the political drama of the league’s game day, which was expected to be one of the most-watched for non-sporting reasons in years.
Bisciotti said he “100 percent” supports his players’ decision to kneel during the national anthem.
Patriots owner Kraft, who has been a strong backer of the president, expressed “deep disappointment” with Mr. Trump and said politicians could learn much from the unifying spirit of a competitive, team-oriented enterprise like football.
“Our players are intelligent, thoughtful, and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful,” Kraft said in a statement.
A mounting number of teams were issuing statements in support of their players late Saturday and into Sunday.
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told CBS Sports that his team would remain in the locker room during the national anthem on Sunday.
“We’re not going to play politics. We’re football players, we’re football coaches. We’re not participating in the anthem today,” Tomlin said.
He added, “Not to be disrespectful to the anthem, to remove ourselves from the circumstance. People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something he shouldn’t be separated from his teammates who chooses not to. So we’re not participating today.”
Green Bay Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy said it was unfortunate that Trump used his “immense platform” to make “divisive and offensive” statements toward players and the NFL.
“We strongly believe that players are leaders in our communities and positive influences,” Murphy said in a statement. “As Americans, we are fortunate to be able to speak openly and freely.
In a statement released on Sunday, Detroit Lions owner and chairwoman Martha Firestone Ford said the NFL has been a “unifying force in our country and impactful change has and hopefully will continue to be the result of peaceful expression, done so in order to highlight social injustices of all kind.”
She added, seemingly pointing to Trump’s statements, that “negative and disrespectful comments suggesting otherwise are contrary to the founding principles of our country, and we do not support those comments or opinions.”
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the kneeling movement last year when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, refusing to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest the treatment of black people by police. Kaepernick became a free agent and has not been signed by a new team for this season.
Without identifying Kaepernick, Trump aimed a Friday talk at a Huntsville, Alabama, rally at those players who have knelt for the anthem.
Trump said to loud applause “wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now. Out! He’s fired.”
Again in a Sunday morning tweet, Mr. Trump urged his supporters to take action: “If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”
Trump’s remarks provoked team owners and the NFL to stridently defend the sport and its players.