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.
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.”
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.