BOSTON (CBS) — Several members of the New England Patriots took a knee during the national anthem on Sunday, but they don’t want their message to be misunderstood.

Roughly 20 players kneeled during the anthem at Gillette Stadium, while others stood locked arm-in-arm. Talking about their protest after the game, players said it was to show unity on the team and throughout the NFL following President Donald Trump’s remarks controversial remarks over the weekend.

Members of the New England Patriots kneel on the sidelines as the National Anthem is played before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 24, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

It was something the team discussed after Trump said the NFL should fire any player who takes a knee during the national anthem, and they were extremely conflicted about what they were going to do heading into Sunday’s game. Players who took a knee hope fans will see it as a message of unity, and not a sign of disrespect to the military or flag.

“First and foremost, we hate that people are going to see it as that we don’t respect the military and the men and women that are way braver than us that go and put their life on the line every day for us to have the right to play football, and we know people are going to see it that way,” veteran safety and team captain Devin McCourty said at the podium on Sunday. “Guys have family members, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters that serve, and they were really conflicted about it. But, we just wanted to send a message of unity and being together and not standing for the disrespect and different ways guys felt,” continued McCourty. “[There were] so many different things going through a lot of guys heads, and it was unique to see guys kind of come together and bond together as a group before the game and do that. But, I think all of us want a message that goes out of unity, being together, obviously as a team, and also as a fraternity of NFL players. Guys talk throughout the league about that, and it was great to be a part of a lot of guys trying to do the right thing. Obviously, it won’t be seen as the right thing to everybody, but I think in our hearts, what we focus on the most was that we were trying to do the right thing today.

“I’m proud of our guys and I’m proud of the group and the guys I get to go out there and play football with. They’re all great guys. They’re better people than they are football players,” McCourty said to finish his statement before taking questions about the game.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who stood with his hand over his heart and his arms locked with teammates during the anthem, did not say much about the pregame protest after Sunday’s 36-33 win.

“I believe love is the greatest thing we have to overcome a lot of things,” said the quarterback.

Receiver Brandin Cooks echoed McCourty’s message from the New England locker room.

“My father was a marine, my uncle was a marine, my family fought in Vietnam. We have the utmost respect for the men and women who fight for our freedom,” said Cooks, adding that he’d never have the courage members of the military display every day. “The message is we want respect and unity, and there are only so many ways you can do it.”

Members of the New England Patriots kneel during the National Anthem before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 24, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The players who did kneel heard some boos from the fans at Gillette Stadium during the anthem. Cooks was part of that group, but those boos turned to cheers by the end of the game when he hauled in the game-winning touchdown in the finals minutes of the New England win.

Cooks said he still loves the fans.

“I love my neighbor,” he said.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick did not want to discuss the protests during his post-game press conference, saying he’d address it at another time. Other players stressed that this will not be a distraction in the locker room because the team is united on the subject.

“People come from all different backgrounds and I believe they do what they believe is right. And I totally support them,” said left tackle Nate Solder. “There’s a lot of craziness outside of this locker room, but inside this locker room, we truly lock arms. We love each other. This is a great, great environment.”

“We’re solid in here. I know that. White, black, Puerto Rican – it doesn’t matter,” said receiver Danny Amendola. “So we’re good in here and we’ve got a really solid group and we’re all excited to play together and work together. It’s awesome to be a part of.”

There were several other protests around the NFL on Sunday, including the Pittsburgh Steelers remaining in the locker room during the national anthem prior to their game.

Comments (17)
  1. I am done with them and the NFL overpaid players. I am going to boycott the NFL. Keep politics out of football!

  2. Daniel Hay says:

    They say they mean no disrespect but that is exactly what they are doing. Surprising to me that they claim that disrespect to the flag and those that serve is the only they say that they can get their message out, Don’t they have cameras in their faces all the time. How about the next time they are asked about the great play they say “I don’t want to talk about me or my team ‘NO DISRESPECT’ but, I want to protest instead.” I know that will never happen because they all have to big of EGOS for disrespecting/protesting themselves.

  3. Pick a different way to protest, what you are doing will never work! All you are doing is creating hate! You are suppose to be role models for our youth! You are teaching disrespect and hate!

  4. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression is the foundation of this country. I question however when you target the symbols of that freedom, the flag and the national anthem. When does it become “disrespectful”? I wonder too the message we are sending to young american’s. These players have a huge platform where they can express themselves daily. Why use nationally televised games? Why especially in a time when a mad man has his finger on the button of a nuclear weapon. I may not agree with Mr Trump. I reserve the right to object and protest what “The Man” says. I do however respect the office Mr Trump holds and the symbols under which those rights and freedoms have been provided for me. I believe the players need to remember these things.

  5. Lynn Donovan says:

    They knew that it would be taken as disrespect and it was! If you’re mad at Trump calling you out for that disrespect than wear the shoe guys! If you want to protest do it off the field! I have stuck by this team through spygate and deflate gate, and defended them. This I cannot defend, I am so disappointed and hurt that a team I held in High regard would do this. You all spit on the flag, this country and the men and women who fought and died to give the opportunity to make millions of dollars to play a game! SHAME ON YOU! It was NOT a sign of UNITY, It was a sign you finally SOLD OUT!

  6. Donna Davis says:

    President Trump is correct in his position concerning the disrespect that NFL players, coaches, and teams are displaying. Title 36 of the U.S. Code is clear on this matter, and the NFL has abandoned its own Code of rule.
    For your reading enjoyment and reflection on the matter, I give you this:
    Title 36 (section 171) of the United States Code states:
    “During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in (military) uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain this position until the last note. When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there.”
    A62-63 of the NFL League Rulebook states:
    “The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem. During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should ensure that the American flag is in good condition. It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.”
    Let the discipline begin.

  7. Many businesses have clauses in their employee contract covering morals and prohibiting virtually any activity that harms the employer. If you don’t like it you are free to work elsewhere. The rights of the employers to not be harmed by even the legally permissible actions of their employees is just as big a right as their employees free speech. Often even after you leave their empowerment they have stiff penalties agreed to in contract for disclosing things or making disparaging comments about your previous employer. All NFL players should face salary forfeiture for any actions or speech that reflects badly on the NFL. If they don’t like it, they need not play.

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