Vice President Mike Pence walked out on the Indianapolis Colts’ game against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday afternoon after a large number of the 49ers players took a knee during the playing of the national anthem.
Pence announced his departure via his Twitter account, writing: “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS [President Trump] and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.”
According to NBC Sports reporter Matt Maiocco, 23 members of the 49ers knelt during the anthem.
The 49ers, the former team of Colin Kaepernick who began the kneeling anthem protests last season, have demonstrated throughout the 2017 season as well. Based upon initial reports via social media, most players appeared to stand for the anthem during the NFL’s 1 p.m. games, with the 49ers the notable exception.
Pence’s decision comes at a time when Kaepernick, a free agent since March, reiterated over the weekend that, should an NFL team sign him, he would stand for the anthem. Kaepernick said in March that no longer wants his method of protest to detract from the positive change he believes has been created, sources told ESPN. He also said the amount of national discussion on social inequality — as well as support from other athletes nationwide, including NFL and NBA players — affirmed the message he was trying to deliver.
As the week began, players seemed to be transitioning from anthem protests to action, the focus has slowly swiveled back to pure football with the season is entering the stage where the importance of wins and losses is amplified — even if the early slate of games was less than stellar.
For the Chargers and the Giants, that may not be relevant until next spring when the NFL draft rolls around, but the matchup of two of the NFL’s remaining winless teams has a lot riding on it. For the Giants, there’s the possibility of offseason upheaval — a rarity for them — in the front office and at the head coaching spot.
The game between the 49ers and the Colts, with one win between them, could factor into the draft as well. At least the Colts have the prospect of Andrew Luck returning relatively soon to hang onto.
The Jets-Browns game offers a little something — the likelihood that we will finally see Myles Garrett, the No. 1 draft pick last spring, in action. So there’s something.
The best of the early lot may be the game between the Lions and Panthers in Detroit. Cam Newton has apologized for his awful remarks about women sports writers, even wearing a Rosie the Riveter pin on his hat during the trip to Michigan.
By the end of the 1 p.m. games, we will know a few things: Are the Bills for real? Are the Jaguars? (And, if Jacksonville is legit, what does that mean for the Steelers?) Settle in. Prepare to learn a few things and wait for Cowboys-Packers at 4:25 and Chiefs-Texans on Sunday night.
The memo has been sent to the NFL commissioner, the protests over social injustices made. But what happens now for NFL players as they pivot from demonstrations during the national anthem to using their platform to accomplish something?
Although some players took a knee to raise awareness of social injustice in America, their numbers were fewer. Teams instead stood, linking arms for the song and there was an acknowledgment that perhaps the message was being lost, co-opted by some groups who were claiming it was aimed at military members rather than police brutality. So players, who had urged Commissioner Roger Goodell to designate a month to raise awareness, took a new approach, in part because they were hearing boos from fans during the anthem. In Green Bay, players heard it loud and clear after asking fans to join them in linking arms.
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“Beauty is, it’s a free country so they can choose to do it or not. The messaging towards this unfortunately needs to continue to be redirected, I think. It’s never been about the national anthem. It’s never been about the military.” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We’re all patriotic in the locker room. We love our troops. This is about something bigger than that — an invitation to show unity in the face of some divisiveness from the top in this country and I’m proud of our guys.”
The message was muddled over the first month of the season, with President Trump calling for NFL owners to suspend or fire players who took a knee for the anthem, calling any who do, in a veiled reference to Colin Kaepernick, a “son of a bitch.” A false, Photoshopped image of the Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Bennett burning a flag in the locker room became a widely shared meme designed to stir up passions. The Seahawks took the next step in their activism, announcing the creation of an educational fund.
“In an effort to create lasting change and build a more compassionate and inclusive society, we are launching the Seahawks Players Equality & Justice for All Action Fund to support education and leadership programs addressing equality and justice,” the team tweeted Sept. 29. “We invite you to join us in donating and taking action.”
The efforts may not have led to results that are more conversational than nationally tangible, but the players pledge that their activism will not end and it’s likely to become an issue again if it shows up in the president’s Twitter feed. In their memo to Goodell, Bennett, Philadelphia Eagles Torrey Smith and Malcolm Jenkins and retired player Anquan Boldin requested that the NFL designate a month, as it does for Breast Cancer awareness in October, to highlight player activism and community engagement.
“To counter the vast amount of press attention being referred to as the ‘national anthem protests’ versus the large amount of grass roots work that many players around the league have invested their time and resources, we would like to request a league wide initiative that would include a month dedicated to a campaign initiative and related events,” the memo stated. “Similarly to what the league already implements for breast cancer awareness, honoring military, etc., we would like November to serve as a month of Unity for individual teams to engage and impact the community in their market.”
Their activism has taken root, down to the high school level and over to the NBA. Although Trump cited declining TV ratings for the NFL, those have improved as the games have and as areas in Texas and Florida have begun to recover from hurricane damage. Players are not backing down, even though the question has always been how to use their platform. Stick to sports? That’s not going to happen, no matter the consequences.
“I’ve heard people say that my colleagues and I are un-American and unpatriotic,” Jenkins wrote in a Washington Post essay. “Well, we want to make America great. We want to help make our country safe and prosperous. We want a land of justice and equality. True patriotism is loving your country and countrymen enough to want to make it better.”
The can’t miss game: It has to be Packers-Cowboys, at 4:25 p.m. EDT. Remember what happened when the teams met in a divisional playoff game in January? Rodgers hit Jared Cook with an impossibly angled pass that Cook hauled in as he tip-toed along the sideline. That led to Mason Crosby’s game-winner field goal, but the backstory on the pass play is fascinating. Although everyone assumed that Rodgers essentially drew it up in the dirt because of the way cameras caught him directing players in the huddle, he burst that illusion.
“The things that I do on the field, most of the time come with deep thought and contemplation — weeks, months before they actually happen,” Rodgers told the State Journal’s Jason Wilde last week. “Sometimes days, sometimes even hours. Sometimes I think of something before a game, and say, ‘Hey, we get this situation, I might check to this’ or ‘I’m thinking maybe this.’ But plays like that one last year, that is something I thought about for a few months.”
“I thought about it for a few months and how to call it and how to kind of put it in so guys would know what to do. And that’s how kind of my brain works at times. Things hit me in the moment and you learn to just … trust it.”
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Where’s Tony?: Sadly, the Packers-Cowboys game is on Fox, which means no Tony Romo. In addition to learning again last week that he’s good at this TV thing, we discovered (courtesy of his wife, Candice) that he warms up by singing Cold Play.
Bye, bye: The first bye week of the season has arrived with the Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints and Redskins all off. That’s fortuitous timing for the Saints, with Hurricane Nate expected in the region.
Brandon Marshall was carted off the field in the first half of the Giants’ game against the Chargers, after suffering an apparent left ankle injury. Fellow wide receiver Sterling Shepard had left the game with a left ankle injury of his own a few plays earlier.
The most intriguing injury update concerns Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who suffered a fracture of his transverse process (the bony protuberances on vertebrae). Although the injury can take two-to-six weeks’ recovery time, he was listed Friday as “questionable” after being a limited participant in practice Thursday and Friday. (Tony Romo, for reference, missed only one game after suffering a similar injury a few years ago.) However, by Sunday morning, reports were counting him out.
Davante Adams, the Packers’ wide receiver, is expected to play Sunday. Adams was hospitalized overnight after being knocked out in the team’s victory Sept. 28. He has cleared concussion protocol and ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reports that he has cleared the concussion protocol and traveled with the team to Dallas.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bennett was listed as questionable Saturday with an unspecified illness.
Although the Tennessee Titans have listed Marcus Mariota as questionable, he is out Sunday after being limited all week with a hamstring injury. Matt Cassel is expected to start, with Brandon Weeden as his backup.
Myles Garrett, the defensive end who was the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, made his his debut for the Cleveland Browns after nursing an ankle injury since training camp and quickly got his wish for a “fat guy’s touchdown,” a sack, on his first play.
WR Kenny Britt (doubtful, knee) QB Marcus Mariota (questionable, hamstring)
LB Jatavis Brown (questionable, ankle) DE Jason Pierre-Paul (questionable, shoulder)
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