LANDOVER, Md. – The Raiders planned to skip Sunday night’s national anthem all together. They were going to remain in the locker room until kickoff, as several teams across the league did in response to President Donald Trump’s inflammatory comments about NFL players.
The schedule didn’t permit that. Kickoff and the national anthem was too close together. So the Raiders were on the sideline, and what they did was far more powerful.
Most of the team sat during the anthem, arm and arm together. Raiders coaches and several players stood with arms linked. Others took a knee. A few guys stood alone.
No Raider had a smile. The image was broadcast to a national television audience. A movement popularized by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to shed light on racial injustice and police brutality against minorities took another turn this weekend, after Trump said Friday night that any NFL player not standing during the national anthem should be fired. He called them sons of bitches.
Players heard what was said. They took it to heart.
The Raiders had a grand platform on Sunday Night Football. They took advantage of it.
“It hit a lot of guys. A lot of guys felt it on a personal level,” left guard Kelechi Osemele said. “They felt that, as role models, they needed to do something to show a sign of unity. Our country was built on equality and freedom and us having rights as human beings. We’re athletes, but we’re humans first. There were some disrespectful comments, and the guys felt like they had a duty to do something, given the stage we have as athletes. You have to do something. We talked about it, and we wanted to be together and show that freedom of speech still matters.”
Owner Mark Davis approved of his team’s reaction. He prefers players don’t protest in a Raiders uniform, but his stance changed this weekend.
“I can no longer ask our team to not say something while they are in a Raider uniform,” Davis said in an interview with ESPN. “The only thing I can ask them to do is do it with class. Do it with pride. Not only do we have to tell people there is something wrong, we have to come up with answers. That’s the challenge in front of us as Americans and human beings.”
Every Raider interviewed about this topic emphasized that their decision to sit or kneel wasn’t meant to disrespect the military, police or the American flag. It was a direct response to Trump’s comments. The Raiders felt they had to respond. Outside of Marshawn Lynch, who always sits for the anthem, this won’t be a weekly thing.
The Raiders made their point and want to move on.
“Stuff is getting out of hand,” left tackle Donald Penn said. “I don’t really want to talk about it or give him more of my time. We have disasters going on in Florida and Puerto Rico, and he’s worried about us doing a silent, peaceful protest? When the people of Charlottesville did their thing, he didn’t call them sons of bitches or assholes.
“We were all on the same page. I wish I didn’t have to do anything like that. I’ve been standing for the anthem all the time, but when you get called out, you take it personally. You have to do something.”