When the playing of the Star Spangled Banner finished, but before the Patriots and Cardinals made their final preparations for the kickoff of their Sunday Night Football matchup, a couple of players on the visitor's sideline at University of Phoenix Stadium had a statement to make.
The timing was important. Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett and safety Devin McCourty didn't want to send their message during the anthem. They waited until it was over, stood in front of an NBC camera and held clenched fists in the air.
Given the current political climate in the country, and given how teams across the NFL have handled themselves during the playing of the national anthem ever since 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines for sitting down during the playing of Francis Scott Key's most famous work, the pose that McCourty and Bennett struck invited probing following their team's 23-21 win over Arizona.
"I think you look throughout the NFL, you saw a lot of guys doing different things," McCourty said. "And it's all for the same cause -- different social injustices. We've talked as players throughout the league just trying to help make change in our communities. One by one, using our platform. Not just doing it on Sundays, on game day, but [we] just talked about different things that we're going to try to do. Help the country and help our community out."
Both McCourty and Bennett made it abundantly clear: They love the country, and they respect the flag. But they both spoke as though they were committed to helping enact change.
"Today I wore socks with the American flag," McCourty said. "I believe in this country. I love this country. My father was in the Army. My older brother was in the Army. Those men and women go out there and put their life on the line. I respect that. That's the reason why I didn't do anything during the national anthem because I respect it, and you talk to different people, how much respect they have for the flag, that's why they believe they go fight. Nothing but respect for them."
McCourty added: "As players, we respect the anthem. A lot of guys have family members, have friends that served and believe in what people go out there and fight for. But you also see a lot of guys who believe in using our platform and trying to be the leaders and help change in the country. We love this country, but it doesn't mean we can't improve it. I think as National Football [League] players we have a platform. Just like many of us have charities and try to do different things in the community, this is a part of it. Just proud to be a part of the NFL."
Like McCourty, Bennett had family serve in the military. And like McCourty, he wanted to show that he was willing to work for change.
"For us, it's just, we represent guys who've been . . . things that have been unjust," Bennett said. "We also support . . . My dad served 13 years in the Navy. It's just one of those things to let them know that this is something that we care about. This is something that we want to bring change [to] in a positive way.
"We're not trying to be a distraction or anything like that. But we want people to know that we're working to make a difference in our communities, and we have been doing that from the beginning. All the things that's going on, whatever it may be, we're just working to be a positive influence in our community. For me I just try to do everything I can to help out those like me. I have friends who have been unjustly discriminated against. All those things. It's not just a black-white thing. It's for all people. We want everybody to be treated fairly and just and for everyone to be tolerant for everything that's going on."