Monday night’s NFL game between the Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants wasn’t particularly consequential.
It’s still the pre-season — the games don’t technically count, new players are just getting their feet wet, and the matches unfold with a fraction of the fanfare we’ll see on display in October.
But if you happened to watch the game at FirstEnergy Stadium on Aug. 21, you may have witnessed a big moment in NFL history.
The largest NFL national anthem protest to date took place during the game, with nearly a dozen players kneeling in unison.
The league’s national anthem protests, which began last year, are focused on drawing attention to the social injustices faced by people of color.
Another four athletes showed solidarity with their protesting teammates by standing alongside the huddled group, their hands placed supportingly on the kneeling players’ shoulders.
As Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer reported, Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Jabrill Peppers, and Christian Kirksey were among the handful of players who participated. But it was tight end Seth DeValve’s participation that’s especially noteworthy.
DeValve became the first white NFL player to protest by also kneeling during the national anthem on Monday night.
“We wanted to do something with our platform,” DeValve told reporters after the game.
The kneeling players, he explained, chose to pray together instead of stand.
The Browns’ protest comes almost exactly one year after Colin Kaepernick first made waves for refusing to stand during the national anthem.
Kaepernick, a former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, had been a lone voice on the sidelines then, contributing his refusal to stand to the systemic mistreatment of people of color — particularly when it came to police brutality.
In the months since, Kaepernick, now a free agent, has had trouble signing with another NFL team. It’s a struggle, many have argued, directly resulting from his protests.
But the conversation Kaepernick helped get started on the football field shows no signs of fading away.
The Browns’ protest on Monday may have been the largest to date, but it wasn’t the first of the pre-season games.
Seattle’s Michael Bennett seemed to have picked up where Kaepernick left off, choosing to sit during the national anthem for his pre-season matches.
“This is what I believe in,” Bennett said of his decision. “Changing society, going into communities, doing organic work, and continuing to push the message that things aren’t fair.”
Last week, teammate Justin Britt supported Bennett, by standing next to him and placing a hand on his shoulder in solidarity.
The continued protests are happening at an especially charged moment when it comes to race relations in the U.S.
It’s only been days since a car driven by a purported white supremacist struck a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The terror attack — which killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injured at least 19 others — reflects the state of a country grappling with a growing resurgence of mainstreamed white supremacy and a president hesitant to condemn their ideology.
“Seeing everything in Virginia and stuff that is going on,” Bennet explained, “I just wanted to be able to use my platform to continuously speak out on injustice.”
The sports arena has long been a place for social discourse and political expression. It looks like the 2017-2018 NFL season will continue that important tradition.
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