Chris Long has been reluctant to speak to reporters about what is happening in stadiums around the NFL, where players are using the playing of the national anthem to make political statements. He knows that sometimes, in the search for soundbites, there may be little context included wherever his words are used.
But given a few minutes on the Russillo and Kanell Show on ESPN Radio to comment on the topic -- a relevant topic in the Patriots locker room as both Devin McCourty and Martellus Bennett chose to make statements of their own immediately after the playing of the Star Spangled Banner on Sunday night -- Long seized the opportunity.
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"I’ve had a lot of thoughts about it," Long said. "It’s hard, because you want to talk to the media. You want to say something about it, but as you know with the media, it’s a long conversation, and if you talk about it for two minutes, they might take 10, 15 seconds out of your quote and take you out of context and run with the narrative. But I’ll make it pretty clear: I support my peers in exercising their right to protest.
"This is a wonderful country, and I think everybody agrees on that. There are things that in our country that can improve, and I don’t think that by acknowledging as a white male that America isn’t the same for me maybe as it is for everybody, the same great place, that we’re complicit in the problem or that we’re saying America isn’t a great place. If we’re saying there are incidents of oppression, systematically or individually, in this country, I don’t think saying, ‘Well in Country X, Y or Z it’s 10 times worse,’ is making things any better. I think that may be true, but why can’t we improve?
"I play in a league that’s 70 percent black, and my peers, guys that I come to work with, guys that I respect, who are very socially aware, intellectual guys, if they identify something that they think is worth putting their reputations on the line [for], creating controversy, I’m going to listen to those guys. And I respect the anthem, I would never kneel for it, and we all come from different walks of life, and we think differently about the anthem and the flag and what that means. But I think you can respect and find a lot of truth in what these guys are talking about and not kneel. Those aren’t mutually exclusive ideas.
"It’s been complicated. It’s brought out a lot of 'well, but.' It’s brought out a lot of what we as fans and players think about the anthem, a lot of strong feelings on both sides. But I think we can all agree we love our vets, we love the vast majority of our officers of law enforcement, but they’re human beings too, and there are isolated incidents that need to be better. I think all that guys are saying is, ‘Listen, most people might be great cops, great people that protect our community, but when there are injustices, let’s find justice for those situations.'
"I respect my peers, I respect Colin [Kaepernick]. Colin really put his reputation on the line, and he’s taking a beating. He’s also had support. I don’t think he did it for publicity. I’m just going to listen to my peers, because I respect those guys, and I can’t put myself in their shoes."
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When Long was asked if the Patriots met as a team to discuss how they would address what was happening, he echoed what McCourty said following Sunday's win over the Cardinals: There has been conversation among players around the league about the different ways to act if players felt the need to act.
"We talked," Long said. "A lot of guys in the leage talked about how we were going to address it. I think the depth of the conversation, guys from all walks of life, all ethnicities, shows that guys really are thoughtful about this thing. It's not just, 'Oh, we're going to do X and Y.' And there are a lot of differing opinions about how you want to do it, but at the end of the day, I'm proud of my teammates for standing up for what they believe in. They've articulated that they have the utmost respect for the men and women of our military.
"One of my good friends, Nate Boyer who was a Green Beret, went and stood with Colin and said, 'Hey, I wsh you would feel the same way I do about the flag and about the anthem, and I'll stand with you until you feel like you can stand.' I thought that was powerful. Coming from a guy who certainly could be very upset about Colin's protest, [he] had an open mind. That's the biggest thing. Just have an open mind.
"And we're concerned about the feeling of our vets, but let's treat our vets better on a daily basis. Why aren't we outraged about the lack of benefits that they get, PTSD being a big problem. How do we treat our vets when they come home? We should be outraged about those things on a daily basis. I think when an African American man makes stand on something like that, then we get upset on behalf of those great men and women, I think we need to just think about our patriotism in general as a country."