FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty stepped to the Gillette Stadium podium in a t-shirt that read: "No place for racism, sexism, fascism, hate." What followed was his explanation why he and his Patriots teammates felt like a silent demonstration during the national anthem was the best way to convey a message of unity following president Donald Trump's remarks during a rally Friday night. 

McCourty was one of more than a dozen players on the Patriots sideline to kneel for the anthem. Others, including Tom Brady, stood and linked arms during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner.

McCourty explained that Saturday was an emotional day for him and his teammates as they tried to determine how best to react to Trump's comments, which referred to players kneeling during the anthem as "sons of bitches" who should lose their jobs.

It was a complicated decision, McCourty said.

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"We were obviously very conflicted," he said. "We knew our message would be perceived by a lot of people in a way that wasn’t what we were trying to put out. A lot of guys felt, I mean, all over the place about the comments by the President Friday night. As a leader on the team, a lot of guys came to me and they didn’t know what to do. They just were kind of angry.

"It was good Saturday. We all kind of talked as a group of releasing that anger and not being angry. We were in chapel and a lot of guys talked about that in our faith, God is first. We wanted to come together."

 

The difficulty was to find a way to do that knowing that kneeling during the anthem would be construed as a sign of disrespect for those in the armed services.

"First and foremost, we hate that people are going to see it as that we don’t respect the military and the men and women that are way braver than us that go and put their life on the line every day for us to have the right to play football, and we know people are going to see it that way," McCourty said. "Guys have family members, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters that serve, and they were really conflicted about it.

"But, we just wanted to send a message of unity and being together and not standing for the disrespect and different ways guys felt. [There were] so many different things going through a lot of guys heads, and it was unique to see guys kind of come together and bond together as a group before the game and do that. But, I think all of us want a message that goes out of unity, being together, obviously as a team, and also as a fraternity of NFL players.

"Guys talk throughout the league about that, and it was great to be a part of a lot of guys trying to do the right thing. Obviously, it won’t be seen as the right thing to everybody, but I think in our hearts, what we focus on the most was that we were trying to do the right thing today. I’m proud of our guys and I’m proud of the group and the guys I get to go out there and play football with. They’re all great guys. They’re better people than they are football players." 

McCourty and his teammates were right in that their demonstration was viewed as a sign of disrespect by some. Fans booed immediately before the anthem and immediately after, presumably in response to seeing players kneel. 

McCourty wasn't the only player trying to clarify the message after the game.

"You want to stand with your brothers, in a sense, kneel with your brothers, and be by their side," said Brandin Cooks. "One statement I would just like to make: A lot of people think we're disrespecting the flag or the military, but my father was a Marine. My uncle was a Marine. My family fought in the Vietnam War. I have the utmost respect for the men and women that are fighting for our freedom.

"That's the first statement that I want to make. I feel [conflicted] in a sense because I have no courage to be able to do something like that. So I understand the magnitude. They're fighting across the world for our freedom. That's not the message. The message is more respect and unity and there's only so many ways that you can do it."

 

Phillip Dorsett was one of several players standing and linking arms on the Patriots sideline during the game.

"It's been an emotional past day-and-a-half. There's obviously been a lot of things going on," he said. "We just wanted to show unity with everybody and what everyone's going through. It has nothing to do with the military, obviously. I have the utmost respect for everybody in the military. I have family members in the military. They know. They understand. It's just about unity for us."

Nate Solder stood for the anthem, as did the majority of his Patriots teammates.

"People come from all different backgrounds and I believe they do what they believe is right," he said. "And I totally support them. There’s a lot of craziness outside of this locker room, but inside this locker room, we truly lock arms. We love each other. This is a great, great environment."

Newly-acquired Patriots defensive end Cassius Marsh linked arms with Matthew Slater, Dwayne Allen, David Harris, Brady and Dorsett, and he did so to promote a certain message -- but also to support his teammates. Marsh tweeted earlier in the day on Sunday, "We all most definitely deserve to play the game we love and exercise ALL our rights as citizens of this amazing, beautiful country that I love."

"I think it’s important to support your teammates," he said. "Lot of guys have been through stuff, and so they’re excercising their rights as citizens of this great country. I respect the military in a huge way. I have family in the military. My girlfriend’s father served in the military for a long time and retired. I have nothing but respect for the flag . . . I love my country, but I I just wanted to support my teammates and what I tweeted is what I believe in and whatever people think about that,  that’s fine.

"I tweeted it so people know how I feel about it because the platform was there for me to say something and be there for my teammates and support not only my guys here but my guys all across the league. I’m not trying to be too controversial, but I support my teammates and all the players in the NFL."

Added Danny Amendola: "We’re solid in here, I know that. White, black, Puerto Rican, don’t matter. We’re good in here, and we have a really solid group. Excited to play together, and work together. It’s awesome to be a part of."

Brady was asked about the message he was hoping to send by linking one arm with Dorsett and placing his right hand over his chest. He reiterated the theme of togetherness and explained that it was important for him to show support for teammates.

"I just think," Brady said, "there's just a great love for my teammates . . . We go through a lot together. There's a lot of blood, sweat and tears. I don't think it's easy to play this sport. I mean, there's a lot of guys that sacrifice a lot. I think you have a lot of respect for the guys who play, not only your own teammates but guys you play against. I mean, without them, it's not a great game. So, it's like I said. I believe in all of us coming together."

 

Asked about Trump's comments on players kneeling for the anthem, Brady replied, "I'm not getting into any of that. Like I said, I speak for myself. I believe what I believe. You guys know me. I'm a very positive person, so I try to just live by example and say positive things about people. I try to control my own emotions, and no matter what anyone says, I'm going to have a positive outlook, certainly with my teammates. We all go through ups and downs and there's struggles and it's life and we're all trying to navigate it as best we can. So, I believe that love is the greatest thing we have that overcomes a lot of things."

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