President Trump forced every NFL team to respond following comments over the weekend, both on Twitter and at a rally in Alabama, that any NFL player who takes a knee in protest during the national anthem is a “son of a bitch” who should be “fired." Bears chairman George McCaskey and coach John Fox spoke to their team on Saturday and delivered a message that players said was well-received.
Players felt like the team’s ownership, management and coaching staff had their back, and they determined their response to — as defensive end Akiem Hicks said — “divisive rhetoric” would be to lock arms as a team during the national anthem on Sunday. The Bears saw President Trump’s comments as an attempt to divide them and the rest of the players in the league, so the message they wanted to send was one of unity.
“To tell us that we don’t have the freedom to speak and to stand on whatever platform that we feel like and voice our opinions, and we have great respect for our country, great respect for the flag, great respect for the anthem — we also want to show that we’re unified,” Hicks said. “And I think that was the best way to show that. We hold all those things dear and we are American citizens.”
This issue has been boiling ever since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — who remains unsigned — was the first to kneel during the national anthem last year in protest of police brutality and social injustice in the United States. Those beliefs are why Kaepernick began peacefully protesting, but the debate about athletes kneeling during the anthem can sometimes lose sight of that, said linebacker Danny Trevathan.
“It gets lost in (translation),” Trevathan, who played a big role in what the Bears decided to do Sunday, said. “I know a lot of people (talked) about the flag, which I’m real big on it, but I really understand the way he attacked it.
“He believed in something. He stood for that. And that’s what America’s built on, guys standing up for a great cause. And I feel like, you know, a lot of people overlook that but for somebody great like that to say something to that, he must’ve felt some way. But I feel like he did the right thing. And this team came together and we had his back, and we stood up for a great cause today.”
Added Trevathan about the Bears' actions on Sunday: “I feel like we were together. Together we can’t fall. I feel like I was doing the right thing. I feel like my two daughters, they would be proud of me. I took a stand for what I believed in.
“And you know, I can’t stand around and let stuff like that happen. Because then you feel pity for yourself, you’ll be like, next time, I’m going to do something, next time — nah, man. Now is the time to stand up and be that right, that right person in the right situation. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. You have to stand up for what’s right.”
Whatever the Bears did on Sunday, the point was to do it as a unified team — a team of players of different ethnicities and backgrounds from different regions of the country.
“We love each other, we’re empathetic for each others’ issues,” offensive lineman Kyle Long said. “This team does a great job of putting ourselves in others’ shoes. And it’s not something that’s hush-hush, we talk about it in the locker room. We have guys who are open about how they feel, and we have guys that are respectful of other people’s opinions.
“I feel like today showed that we are a unit, a cohesive unit. That’s what we wanted to convey today. We didn’t want to show any disrespect towards the military, the flag. But there are obviously issues going on in our country, and I think we did the right thing today. Going forward, just trying to make this place a better world to live in.”