A week after a record 180 NFL players sat or knelt for the national anthem, players by and large backed away from the protest Sunday.
ESPN's Darren Rovell noted just 52 players from games played Thursday or Sunday knelt or sat. Thirty San Francisco 49ers, nine Seattle Seahawks, six Buffalo Bills, three Miami Dolphins, two Detroit Lions and one player from the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants protested. The entire Baltimore Ravens team also briefly took a knee before the anthem.
Brian Stelter of CNN reported some players who knelt last week stood this time "out of respect for our country and military, not out of respect for Trump."
President Donald Trump's controversial comments at an Alabama rally last Friday stoked the widespread protest last week, which to that point had been confined to a handful of players. Trump said NFL owners should fire any "son of a bitch" who knelt or sat during the anthem. He has continued tweeting about the issue and making public comments, often using a "suspend or fire" mantra.
A group of NFL owners and eight players met Tuesday at league headquarters in New York to discuss the protests, per Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham of ESPN.com. Players union head DeMaurice Smith said he was not a fan of the meeting because he felt owners were using freedom of expression as a bargaining chip.
"It was offensive to me because, historically, there was always a question of, 'What is it going to take in order for us to buy your voice of protest?' The problem with that is, No. 1, it assumes we are doing this because we want something from the owners," Smith said. "And second, it's clear that once you commoditize a freedom, like the right to free speech, once you've sold it, you can never use it again."
Anthem protests polarized fans throughout the week as many booed in the stadium or took to social media to express their displeasure. Others offered their support to players who are protesting systemic oppression and following in the footsteps of still-unemployed Colin Kaepernick.