BOSTON (CBS) — Boomer Esiason has long expressed his disagreement with NFL players who have sat, knelt, or otherwise protested during the national anthem, going back to Colin Kaepernick last season. But he understands that Sunday’s league-wide demonstrations was different.
Joining 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Monday, Esiason was asked about the widespread kneeling and interlocking arms among NFL players, coaches, and even owners during national anthem performances across the league on Sunday. While Esiason is a strong proponent of standing during the anthem, he acknowledged that they were largely a reaction to President Trump’s crass comments about protesting players and call for the league to fire them, which originated in a Friday speech at a rally in Alabama.
“I thought everything was completely predictable,” said Esiason. “I saw [Trump’s speech], I found it to be cringeworthy. I knew that the players and the owners would have no choice but to react the way they did. So yesterday, I think what you saw across the NFL was a lot of anger directed at the White House. It’s something that I think we all expected to happen, and I think most of us tried to put it in that light that it was a show of solidarity. And it was a unity that I had never seen between the owners and the players before in my life.
“In a weird way, the president became a unifier – but a unifier against him, and against his words that he used in Alabama.”
Esiason, whose family served in the U.S. military over multiple generations, made it clear that he is still against kneeling during the national anthem and understands the feelings of fans who booed players or otherwise reject their protests. But he also realizes that much of Sunday was about something entirely different from what Kaepernick started in 2016.
“I’m against the kneeling for the flag, I’ve said it a thousand times, and it all started with Colin Kaepernick a year ago,” said Esiason. “And I believe that when you put on an NFL football uniform and step into an NFL stadium, you’re going to work. That’s your workplace. And people are paying big dollars to come and watch you do your thing on the field and appreciate your athleticism and your intensity. And I really felt like everything got sideways when Colin decided to do what he did. So I’m against totally kneeling against the flag.
“But yesterday, I think, it was a whole different story as to why people were kneeling. It was a direct reaction to what happened on Friday. So I also understand why NFL fans are disgusted by what they see as unpatriotic actions by the players, and I feel the same way too. But yesterday was a whole different set of circumstances.”
Esiason also had strong words for the Steelers over their decision to stay in the locker room during the national anthem, as well as the Giants and controversial receiver Odell Beckham Jr.. Listen to the full interview above!