Twelve Cleveland Browns players kneeled in prayer during the national anthem on Monday night ahead of the team’s preseason game with the New York Giants.
The Browns’ protest was the largest the NFL has seen since last year, when players started kneeling during renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest racial injustice. The demonstration started when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is currently a free agent, kneeled during the national anthems before his games.
On Monday, linebacker Christian Kirksey led the group in prayer, according to ESPN. USA Today reported Kirksey was joined by fellow linebacker Jamie Collins, cornerback Jamar Taylor, running backs Duke Johnson, Terrence Magee, Isaiah Crowell and Brandon Wilds, safeties Jabrill Peppers and Calvin Pryor, tight end Seth DeValve and wide receivers Kenny Britt and Ricardo Louis.
In a sign of support, five other teammates ― rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, defensive back Jason McCourty, offensive lineman Marcus Martin, offensive tackle Shon Coleman and punter Britton Colquitt ― stood during the anthem while placing their hands on the shoulders of the kneeling players
At half time, the Browns put out a statement about the players’ decision to kneel during the national anthem.
“As an organization, we have a profound respect for our country’s national anthem, flag and the servicemen and servicewomen in the United States and abroad,” the statement reads in part. “At the same time we also respect the great liberties afforded by our country including the freedom of personal expression.”
After the game, coach Hue Jackson commented on the players’ decision. “Those guys came to me and talked to me about it before they ever made a decision to do it,” he said.
Kizer spoke of his decision to stand with his kneeling teammates.
“At a time where this country is kind of all over the place in the sense of human rights and racist movements, I decided that it was right for me to join my brothers who decided to take a knee by supporting them in their decision to pray,” he said.
Last week, Jackson came under fire for telling reporters that “everybody has a right” to protest, but that “hopefully, that won’t happen” among his players.
Jackson clarified his comments days later saying, “The intent of my comments was not to discourage individual expression from our players in light of a cause that moves them to personal expression.”
In an interview with ESPN, Kirksey said of the demonstration, “We did it out of respect. No disrespect for anyone, we just felt like it was the right time and the need to do it.”
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