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Christian Kirksey: Browns players were “praying over the country” with anthem gesture

New York Giants v Cleveland Browns

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 21: A group of Cleveland Browns players kneel in a circle in protest during the national anthem prior to a preseason game against the New York Giants at FirstEnergy Stadium on August 21, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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Seventeen members of the Cleveland Browns combined to make the largest group gesture during the national anthem since Colin Kaepernick first sat last preseason.

Twelve Browns players knelt to the ground in a prayer circle while five more circled around with arms on shoulders prior to Cleveland’s game against the New York Giants on Monday night. Linebackers Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins, running backs Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Terrence Magee and Brandon Wilds, safeties Calvin Pryor and Jabrill Peppers, cornerback Jamar Taylor, tight end Seth DeValve and receivers Kenny Britt and Ricardo Louis were the 12 players to kneel in a circle. Offensive linemen Marcus Martin and Shon Coleman, cornerback Jason McCourty, punter Britton Colquitt and quarterback DeShone Kizer stood with the group.

Kirksey - a fourth-year player that inked an extension with Cleveland in May - said the reason for the demonstration was done with respect in mind and with hopes of offering a prayer for the country.

With everything you do you have to have respect,” Kirksey said, via Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal. “If anyone was wondering what was going on in that circle … we were praying over the country, praying over things that are going on and we tried to do it as respectfully as possible. We respect everything that happens with people in the military, we respect all of that. We felt it was the right time to do that.”

The Browns’ gesture also included the first white player to kneel in DeValve. Eagles defensive end Chris Long and Seahawks center Justin Britt had shown similar support to Colquitt through the last weekend of games, but DeValve is the first to take a knee, or sit.

“I will be raising children that don’t look like me,” said DeValve, whose wife is black. “And I want to do my part as well to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now.”

Browns head coach Hue Jackson said he was informed ahead of time of his players’ plans for the evening.

“As I said two days ago, we respect our players; we respect the flag,” he said in quotes distributed by the team. “Those guys came to me and talked to me about it before they ever made a decision to do it. That is the way we feel about it, and we have talked about this. I said at some point in time, they may, and they have. I won’t know about the next game until it happens, but again, this was tonight and we will move on from there.”

While the player that began the trend of making a gesture of protest during the anthem to speak out about racial inequality remains unemployed for now, it’s more clear that ever that similar statements of protest aren’t going away any time soon.