On NFL’s opening day Sunday, football players on teams across the league stood, kneeled and even stayed in their locker rooms during the playing of the national anthem.
The evolving social protest movement for racial justice has changed the opening moments of the game since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first kneeled during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest systemic racism in 2016.
The Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Chargers linked arms during the singing of the national anthem and the owners of the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons stood with their teams during the playing of the so-called Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
The Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons dropped to a knee immediately after the opening kickoff.
During warmups, the Georgia team wore shirts with a quote from the late Atlanta-area Rep. John Lewis: “The Vote is the most powerful, nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society.”
Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich, who is white, took a knee during the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In a statement, the Colts said that “we were not protesting the flag, the anthem, or the men and women who wear the uniform.”
“The timing of this action is meant to highlight that the presence, power and oppression of racism remains inconsistent with the unity and freedoms of what it means to be an American,” the team continued.
“Frank is the leader of this team … and he’s the one who says ‘You know it starts with me,'” Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard, who is Black, told The Associated Press. “That definitely means a lot and that’s why we stand behind Coach Frank, he stands behind us, and we all stand together.”
As promised in a video released last week, the Miami Dolphins avoided the scene altogether by staying in their locker room during the playing of the national anthem, an approach taken by at least five other teams — the Eagles, Bills, Jaguars, Cardinals and Packers.
Earlier this year, the NFL promised to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before each game during opening week. NBC News reported that some Black fans found it to be “pandering.“
Thursday’s first game of the season previewed the opening weekend protests when the Kansas City Chiefs locked arms in the end zone while their opponents, the Houston Texans, stayed inside the locker room until both songs finished playing.
The NFL did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Associated Press contributed.