The message sent by the National Action Network was direct and clear — the Detroit Lions should not adhere to the NFL’s new national anthem policy unless they endorse bigotry.
The Rev. Charles Williams II, 37, president of the Michigan National Action Network, said Friday that owner Martha Ford and the Lions need to publicly declare where they stand. Otherwise, he said, protests will begin on opening day.
“We’re here today because we’re very, very disappointed in the National Football League’s stance on those who choose to kneel for justice,” Williams said. “We’re standing here to send a message to Martha Ford and the Detroit Lions organization demanding that they do not adhere to the NFL policy that’s being set by Roger Goodell.”
Attempts to contact the Lions on Friday were not immediately successful.
NFL owners approved a proposal Wednesday that requires players to stand and show respect for the flag and anthem. Teams with personnel that do not follow the new policy are subject to a fine from the league, and the league may levy “appropriate discipline” as well. Players are no longer required to be on the field for the anthem and may remain in the locker room if they choose to. Additionally, teams have the latitude to impose their own restrictions as long as they follow the spirit of the new league policy.
Williams noted that a few teams immediately denounced the rule, and New York Jets owner Christopher Johnson reportedly said he’d pay any fines levied against his players.
“The New York Jets, they didn’t waste a minute,” Williams said. “When this initially came out, the New York Jets came right out and said, ‘This is not a policy that we believe in and this is not a policy that we endorse, and we are standing with our players.’ ”
Williams says the Lions should do the same.
“It should be instinct to say, we’re not standing with hate. We’re standing with those who would like to make their voices heard around the issues that matter to them.”
Williams was accompanied by a few other members of the National Action Network, including local activist Sam Riddle.
Kayla Kennard, 20, president of the National Action Network Wayne State University chapter, also lent her voice to the cause.
“I believe that this policy is completely nonsensical, in the sense that players can use the field as a platform of influence,” Kennard said. “The American problems that we see — gun violence, police brutality — those are public issues, so it requires a public redress.”
Williams said he and his organization believe “silence is consent” when it concerns NFL teams not stating whether or not they will comply with the new policy.
“If we turn our head at hate, we run the risk of letting hate win,” Williams said.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started protesting police brutality and social injustices in America by sitting or kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.
The action hit a fever pitch in September, when President Donald Trump said players who protest during the anthem should be punished, saying, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now? Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’ ”
Players began protesting in masse after the comments, including eight Lions prior to their Sept. 24 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons.
Free Press writer Orion Sang contributed to this report.
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