CANTON, Ohio -- Update: All Bears players, coaches and team personnel stood and linked arms during the playing of the National Anthem. No Ravens players appeared to protest during the anthem, either.
Bears players, as of their final practice before leaving for Canton on Tuesday, hadn’t come to a decision on what they’ll do when the National Anthem is played before Thursday night’s Hall of Fame Game. Whatever members of the team do, though, it’ll be in the national spotlight given tonight represents the first NFL game played since the Anthem issue barged back into the league’s headlines this spring.
The NFL last month put a freeze on the National Anthem resolution it adopted in May, which required all team personnel on the field to stand and “show respect” for the anthem. Anyone who was on the field and not standing would be subject to fines from the league and the team for which they play; those who wish to protest were told to remain in the locker room for the playing of the anthem. With the decision to freeze that resolution — which the league announced jointly with the NFLPA — there is no policy in place on how team personnel are expected to act during the National Anthem.
Bears linebacker Sam Acho, the team’s NFLPA rep and the most outspoken member of the organization on the National Anthem and social justice issues, said on Tuesday he wasn’t sure if he and his teammates would continue to stand and link arms during the anthem, as they did in 2017 following President Donald Trump’s explosive comments and tweets on the matter.
“Yeah. It’s really hard,” Acho said. “I’m not going to lie to you guys. It’s really, really hard, and it could be confusing at times, on how do you find an answer? How do you get a solution? Because not everyone has the same beliefs. Not everyone has the same experiences. Not everyone has the same skin color. Not everyone has the same religious background. Not everyone has the same sexual orientation.
“We come from so many different backgrounds and experiences, so it’s going to be hard to figure out one solution that fits everyone. But the great thing about a team is when you do something for your brothers, you’re doing it for yourself. And so even if you don’t believe wholeheartedly in some issue, you believe in your teammates, so you do it for your teammates. Even if you don’t agree or you haven’t experienced some pain that someone else has experienced, you believe in them, so you do it for them.
“You cry with them. I’ve cried with these guys. I’ve shed tears with these guys. I’ve been places with these guys. I’ve done life with these guys. So it’s going to be hard to figure out one solution that fits everyone, but I think the beauty of it is that when you come together and you put your own, I’ll call them selfish desires, behind you and say I’m going to do it for the betterment of the team, I think that’s when real growth and real change happens.”
Those on the Bears who’ve spoken on the anthem issue have all said whatever action is taken will be done as a team, as Acho outlined above. But a one-size-fits-all policy will be difficult to come to for 53 players in Week 1, let alone for the 90 guys on this roster for Thursday night.
Still, as those within the organization discussed what will be done during the National Anthem Thursday night, coach Matt Nagy said he’s confident in whatever decision is made.
“I feel really, really good with where we’re at,” Nagy said. “I feel comfortable and I know this, whatever we do, we’re going to do it together.
“… It’s everybody (discussing it). It’s collectively. That’s how we do things around here. I think that’s the best way. Me personally, that’s my opinion. And I know everybody else feels that way. And that’s what makes it really easy for so many of us to understand that and feel good. We talk about a family type atmosphere in this organization and I think you’ll see that.”
Whatever the Bears and Baltimore Ravens do during the National Anthem, though, will be noticeable in one way or another. Will the president tweet about it? Perhaps.
But no matter what, this is a topic that isn’t going away, especially as long as long as the NFL keeps stumbling through solutions that don’t appease anyone on either side of this divisive issue.
“I tell everybody, everybody has their own opinion,” Nagy said. “Specifically, everybody is right and everybody is somewhat wrong. There is no correct answer. But as long as you talk it through and you do it peacefully and you understand that, then you realize what is out there. And that as long as you recognize that, you talk it through and you try to help out.
“So I feel really good with where we’re at. I feel good myself. And then again, I think, if you talk to a lot of coaches, they’re not putting it aside. But we have a responsibility with this team right now. We’re trying to get this team right to win football games. And so right now, with all due respect, that’s really what we’re focused on.”