UPDATED: NFL players took a knee or locked arms on Sunday during the national anthem in the first games since President Donald Trump attacked players for engaging in such protests and the league itself for supporting them.
The first show of support for NFL players took place in London at Wembley Stadium, as the Baltimore Ravens faced Jacksonville Jaguars. Among those who participated in the protest was Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, who locked arms with tight end Mercedes Lewis and linebacker Telvin Smith.
The Pittsburgh Steelers sat out the rendition of the national anthem in Chicago, where they squared off against the Bears. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and some staffers were the only ones on the field as it was sung while the players stayed in the locker room. One player, Alejandro Villanueva and a military veteran who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, stood near the entrance. The Bears players players locked arms during the national anthem.
Elsewhere, eight members of the Detroit Lions went on one knee as they linked arms with other teammates before their home game agains the Atlanta Falcons. The singer of the anthem at Detroit’s Ford Field went down on one knee as he was finishing.
The Steelers’ Tomlin earlier told CBS Sports that his team had decided not to participate in the national anthem ceremony before their game on Sunday in a show of unity. “People shouldn’t have to choose,” Tomlin said.
This comes as a reaction to a feud that ignited over the weekend between Trump and the NFL. On Friday, Trump told a rally in Alabama, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say: ‘Get that son of a b— off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!'”
The president’s comment referred to players who have kneeled during the national anthem as a form of protest of racial injustice in the U.S.
In a rare statement addressing a political issue, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called Trump’s remarks “divisive,” and said they “demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL.”
Trump escalated his demands on Sunday morning by calling for fans to boycott the NFL. “You will see change take place fast,” Trump tweeted. “Fire or suspend!”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended Trump’s remarks in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He proposed that NFL owners establish a rule about standing during the national anthem.
“Players have the right for free speech off the field,” he said. “On the field, this is about respect for lots of people.”
“If people want to talk politics off the field when they’re not working for the NFL, they have the absolute right to do that,” he added.
Several NFL players have been vocal on social media in reaction to Trump’s comments.
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, tweeted on Saturday, “We will never back down. We no longer can afford to stick to sports.”