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Will They Kneel?: NFL Players Prioritize Team Unity

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NFL players kneeling during the national anthem might not be widespread in the upcoming football season.

Some coaches and front-office executives have mentioned that organizations might insist on unity, which could be a hurdle.

“Whatever our team ends up doing, we’re gonna support. But we’re gonna do it together as a team,” Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard said.

Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur and several other coaches also expressed their support of players, but said they want it to be a team decision.

“That’s something that I promise you we will spend as much time as necessary as an organization listening to each other, understanding each other, and then we’ll make a decision together,” Stefanski said.

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Getting an entire roster to agree collectively is a tough task, regardless of the topic.

Quarterbacks Jared Goff of the Rams and Matt Ryan of the Falcons expressed the importance of standing together.

“I stand fully behind whatever it is that’s decided, and I do want to push for change, so I’m fully behind whatever the leaders on the team decide to do, and I’ll be part of that discussion as well,” Goff said. “We’ll come to a decision collaboratively.”

Likewise, Ryan said, “It’s about unity within our team and having that discussion and creating an open forum for teammates to talk about what that means to them and how they’re going to act appropriately.”

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Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis agreed. “We always come together as a team and we talk about these issues,” he said. “And it hasn’t been to a point to where we cut a guy because of that. So, we’ll have to see.”

Another potential factor is the growing belief among players that kneeling is no longer necessary to raise awareness after nationwide unrest over the death of George Floyd.

Redskins running back Adrian Peterson and Bears safety Jordan Lucas have already said they plan to take a knee for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games this season. Other players are waiting to discuss the issue with their teammates.

Not everyone believes it has to be a team decision.

“It should definitely be left up to the individual,” Jordan Lucas said.

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Richard Sherman said that all of his 49ers teammates aren’t going to handle the situation the same way.

“To each their own,” the cornerback said. “People will empathize with one another and have that brotherhood even if they don’t protest the same way.”

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes looked at the bigger picture.

“It’s not about who kneels and who doesn’t, it’s about having the right to peacefully protest, and knowing that racial inequality happens every day, and I just want the community to be where everybody, including the black community, can be safe,” he said. “Whatever that takes.”

Chargers running back Justin Jackson seemed hesitant.

“I don’t know if [kneeling] will have the most net positive outcome because of the way it gets so, such a hyper-partisan issue, really because they don’t want to talk about the real issue,” he said.

“Nevertheless, I think if we just use our platforms like we are now to continue to expose and advocate for the change we want to see in society, that might be the best method going forward. But we’ll see.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week in a video condemned racism and encouraged players to protest peacefully.

Meanwhile, Saints quarterback Drew Brees said in an interview that he disagrees with protests “disrespecting the flag.” He later apologized for the comment after fierce backlash.


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