Miami Dolphins wide receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson each took a knee during the performance of the national anthem before Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans, keeping their protest of social injustice alive in the NFL’s new season. Miami defensive end Robert Quinn joined by raising his fist. This week, Stills told the New York Times that he planned to kneel, even though “the first two years of this protest have been really difficult with the negative backlash we’ve been receiving.”
The the NFL instituted a policy in May to punish players for kneeling or sitting during the national anthem, but it was put on hold after objections from the NFL Players Association (who weren’t consulted about the rule). On Sunday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the anthem policy would not be implemented at all this season. According to Schefter, “Too many people have stances too strong to figure out a compromise.”
While the protests have always explicitly been about social injustice, Donald Trump has forced himself and his office upon the anthem, and the president repeatedly attacks the league and its players to score political points. On Sunday, he tweeted about the NFL’s Thursday night ratings for the season opener, writing, “If the players stood proudly for our Flag and Anthem, and it is all shown on broadcast, maybe ratings could come back?”
No players actively protested the anthem before that Eagles-Falcons game, which was delayed nearly an hour due to inclement weather. While the NFL’s ratings did decline last season, Schefter notes that 20 of the 30 highest-rated television programs in 2017 were NFL games.
Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins is a leader of the players’ movement, but he did not protest during “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Thursday. (Jenkins had been raising his fist or standing in the tunnel during preseason anthem performances.) In an interview with the Washington Post last week, he said he wanted “to get this conversation to move away from the anthem.”
Last season, Jenkins co-founded the Players Coalition to support projects focusing on social justice issues like criminal justice reform and education. The NFL partnered with the Players Coalition, and the league has pledged to contribute $89 million over seven years “for efforts and programs combating social inequality.”
Stills, meanwhile, has continued where he left off. “It shouldn’t be this complicated,” he told the New York Times. “There are people in this country who are saying there are issues we want to bring to light, can you help us make change. Instead of people saying, yeah, let’s do this, let’s make change, let’s make our country a better place, it’s like, no, don’t do this then, this isn’t the right place, you don’t like the police.”