With fervor over national anthem demonstrations at an all-time high, the focus on "The Star-Spangled Banner" was never greater than Sunday, which marked the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
There were demonstrations planned across the NFL for Week 1, some in support of those who lost their lives and others in protest of racial inequality.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and teammate Eric Reid were off the marquee, with their opener against the Los Angeles Rams scheduled for Monday night. But the Seattle Seahawks made headlines before their game against the Miami Dolphins by announcing their plan to lock arms as a sign of unity:
Signs of protest were all but nonexistent during the 1 p.m. ET games. Players stood during the national anthem, and the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars held the American flag:
The New Orleans Saints, celebrating their 50th anniversary, brought out a huge flag for the anthem:
Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer noted vice president Joe Biden stood next to Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson prior to the Eagles' game against the Cleveland Browns. George W. Bush, who was president during the 9/11 attacks, flipped the coin for the Dallas Cowboys prior to their game against the New York Giants:
There were no reports of players joining Kaepernick's protest to kneel during the anthem before the early games. However, BlackSportsOnline captured a photo of Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters raising his fist:
Several members of the Tennessee Titans also made the gesture:
The raised fist is a symbol of black power. Tommie Smith and John Carlos made the gesture on the medal stand after winning gold and bronze in the 200-meter dash at the 1968 Summer Olympics—one of the most famous acts in international sports history.
After the Chiefs' overtime victory against the San Diego Chargers, head coach Andy Reid told reporters he "wasn't told" Peters would make the gesture but added he "knows Peters does a ton for his community and 'wants what's right.'"
Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos was the first player to kneel prior to a regular-season game. He did so before Thursday's season-opening win over the Carolina Panthers.
The Dolphins issued a statement of support for their players amid the protest:
We encourage all members of our organization to stand at attention during the national anthem out of respect and appreciation for the freedoms we are afforded as Americans. We also recognize that it's an individual's right to reflect during the anthem in different ways.
We respect these liberties and appreciate the sacrifices that everyone has made for our country, especially on this day of remembrance. We hope today's events will continue a respectful and thoughtful dialogue in our community on unity, inclusiveness and togetherness.
Foster has long been one of the NFL's most vocal players. He previously spoke out in support of Kaepernick and has called out both the NCAA and NFL over player health/safety concerns. "Weren't looking to do something disrespectful," said Foster after the Dolphins' loss to the Seahawks, via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald.
On Monday, Foster told reporters he will once again kneel during the anthem prior to the Week 2 matchup with the New England Patriots.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz of the New York Giants chose to wear customized cleats honoring 9/11 victims. SportsCenter revealed the plan Friday:
"Regardless of how you feel about things that are going on in America today and things that are going on across the world with gun violence and things of that nature, you've got to respect the flag," Cruz told reporters following the Giants' third preseason game.
Mohamed Sanu and Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons also wore patriotic gear:
Prior to the Patriots' matchup with the Arizona Cardinals, Devin McCourty and Logan Ryan wore socks that had American flags on them. One sock had "sole" and the other had "impact" printed on it, per Mike Reiss of ESPN. During the anthem, Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty each raised their right arm, via Kirk and Callahan:
Danny Amendola was holding the flag during the song, via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe:
One player who was almost talked out of rocking his customized equipment was Tennessee Titans linebacker Avery Williamson. He planned to don specially designed cleats for 9/11 victims but was contacted by NFL officials who threatened a potential fine.
"I don't want to draw negative attention, so I'm just going to focus on playing the game," Williamson told Jason Wolf of the Tennessean. "Once I heard from them, I didn't even try to argue anything. I just left it alone. I didn't want to press the issue."
At least three police unions offered to pay Williamson's fine, but he seemed to waffle before the game. John Glennon of the Tennessean noted Williamson initially wore white cleats Sunday, yet Wolf reported he eventually went with the patriotic shoes.
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