Every NFL Team to Protest During the National Anthem in Week 1

The opening weekend of the NFL season witnessed widespread protests as several players and coaches added their voices to the chorus of anti-racism demonstrations that have swept across the U.S. over the past four months.

Players across the major U.S. leagues and the league themselves had publicly called out systematic racism and police brutality after George Floyd died while in custody of the Minneapolis Police Department in May, but the ante was significantly upped after the shooting of Jacob Blake sparked a fresh wave of protests. Blake was left paralyzed after he was shot seven times in his back by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 23.

In the wake of the latter incident, the NBA, MLB, MLS and WNBA all postponed games after players refused to play in protest. The opening weekend of the season marked the NFL's turn to add its voice to the chorus, four years on since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first knelt to highlight the issue of racism and police brutality in the U.S.

In the season opener in Kansas City on Thursday night, Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor took a knee during the national anthem, while the Houston Texans remained in the locker room during the performing of "The Star Spangled Banner" and for Alicia Keys' rendition of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing".

Traditionally known as the Black national anthem, the latter was performed before every game in Week 1. There were sparse boos as the Chiefs left immediately after the anthems, before both teams reemerged from the locker rooms and locked arms with each other as a series of social justice messages were displayed on the big screen, before a moment of silence dedicated to the fight for equality was also met with some boos.

On Sunday, several teams followed the Texans' example. In Buffalo, neither the Bills nor the New York Jets took the field for their national anthem ahead of their game, while the Miami Dolphins remained in the locker room for the anthem before their season opener in New England as Patriots players and coaches stood on the sideline.

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Last week, the Dolphins had criticized the NFL's decision to play "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" before Week 1 games as a hollow gesture.

"This attempt to unify only creates more divide," the players said in a video.

"So we'll skip this song and dance, and as a team we'll stay inside. We need changed hearts, not just a response to pressure. Enough, no more fluff and empty gestures. We need owners with influence and pockets bigger than ours to call up officials and flex political power."

Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
Jared Goff #16, Cooper Kupp #10 and Josh Reynolds #11 of the Los Angeles Rams stand as their teammates kneel during the national anthem before their game against the Dallas Cowboys at SoFi Stadium on September 13 in Inglewood, California. Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty

All Washington Football Team players stood on the sideline and some raised their fists before their home game against Philadelphia, while the Eagles remained in the locker room as did the Green Bay Packers prior to their opening game in Minneapolis, while a few Vikings players took a knee during "The Star Spangled Banner".

In Jacksonville, Florida, the Jaguars stayed in the locker room, while the Indianapolis Colts stood on the goalie as head coach Frank Reich took a knee.

The Jaguars said their decision had been taken "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."

In an official statement, the Colts added: "It is not a posture of defiance but rather one of humility—taken by the white community—to acknowledge injustice and inequality that is present, and to find the courage and resolve to make the changes needed. The team standing and locking arms is symbolic of our unity and strength. We desire to stand with and for each other and for Black communities in the fight for justice and equality."

Some Bears and Lions players declined to appear on the field for the anthems in Detroit and many of those who did, knelt or raised their fists. Both teams were on the field in Baltimore, with several Ravens and a few Cleveland Browns taking a knee. A similar scenario unfolded in Carolina, where eight Panthers players knelt and nine raised their fists, while the Las Vegas Raiders stood and locked arms during the anthem.

Both teams were also on the field ahead of the game in Atlanta, where a few Seattle Seahawks players knelt during the anthem, before players from both teams took a knee after kickoff.

In the late afternoon games, Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Chargers players stood in the middle of the field and locked arms during the anthem, while New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins was the only player not on the field ahead of the Saints home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In San Francisco, a few 49ers knelt during the playing of "The Star Spangled Banner", while the Arizona Cardinals remained in the locker room.

Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Dontari Poe became the first Cowboys player to kneel during the anthem as he took a knee ahead of Dallas' game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night. Poe's gesture was imitated by over a dozen of Rams players and coaches.

Atlanta Falcons, NFL
Mykal Walker #43 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts as the Falcons and the Seattle Seahawks kneel after the opening kickoff at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 13 in Atlanta, Georgia. Kevin C. Cox/Getty
Every NFL Team to Protest During the National Anthem in Week 1 | Sports