Are NFL Teams Taking Donald Trump’s Advice? Week 4 Protests Will Copy Cowboys, Try to Please Everyone

On Thursday night, the Green Bay Packers did as they had promised, as players and coaches linked arms on the sideline while “The Star-Spangled Banner” played. Martellus Bennett, one of three Packers who knelt last weekend at Lambeau Field, stood for what the tight end called a symbol of “unity.”

This was after the Dallas Cowboys took a road apparently designed to upset nobody, kneeling briefly on Monday night before the anthem, along with owner Jerry Jones, before standing with arms linked, like the Packers.

After one of the more incendiary, politically aware weekends in NFL history, provoked by President Donald Trump’s call at an Alabama rally for players kneeling during the anthem to be “fired,” has the league quickly reverted to a position of safety?

Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints quarterback, tweeted on Friday that the Saints will “kneel in solidarity” before the anthem prior to their Sunday game in London against the Miami Dolphins. “As a way to show respect to all, our #Saints team will kneel in solidarity prior to the national anthem & stand together during the anthem,” Brees wrote.

The Saints, then, will follow the Cowboys’ and Packers’ models, but they are not alone. NBC’s Pro Football Talk reports that other teams this weekend will choose to both stand and kneel, news that comes in the wake of a “unity meeting” held between NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, 10 franchise owners and eight players. The New York Daily News quoted Giants defensive captain Jonathan Casillas, who said co-owner John Mara would like his team captains to stand during the anthem.

Mara, Casillas added, will support those who choose to kneel. “It’d be, if he [Mara] had any request, that’d [standing] be a request of his,” Casillas said. “But he also said if anyone in the locker room feels like they want to kneel, feels like they have to kneel, he’d be supportive of anybody who has to do that. Honestly, as a player in this league and everything going on, we can’t really ask for anything more than that.”

The Denver Broncos, who host the Oakland Raiders at Mile High Stadium on Sunday, said Thursday that they would be standing as a team. “We may have different values and beliefs, but there’s one thing we all agree on: We’re a team and we stand together—no matter how divisive some comments and issues can be, nothing should ever get in the way of that,” a players’ statement quoted by The Denver Post read. “Starting Sunday, we’ll be standing together.”

As Trump’s comments at the Alabama rally were gaining overwhelmingly negative traction, he tweeted on September 24 that “standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable.” In keeping with the general decrease in volume during the week, Trump has shifted his focus on social media to the crisis in Puerto Rico. His last football-related tweet was in praise of Jones, on September 27.

By opting for team unity, or choosing to both stand and kneel and thus please everyone, there is a chance and a risk that the NFL’s players could look like they are acceding to Trump’s demands. The protests aren’t over, but they do appear set to become quieter and more acquiescent than a week ago. And that’s probably bad news for anyone who doesn’t want Colin Kaepernick’s original message to become diluted.

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