MINNEAPOLIS — Days after linking arms with players during the singing of the national anthem, Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford asked her team not to kneel for the playing of the song during a team meeting last week.
In exchange for finding a different way to protest racial injustices around the country, Ford said she would be willing to donate both money and her name to community issues at the heart of the players’ cause.
“As a team, we came together, talked to Mrs. Ford, the owners, and we understand the issues for the most part, generally,” running back Ameer Abdullah said. “Me personally, I definitely want to be an aid in growing the social awareness in this country, that it is a race problem in this country.
“We do dance around the topic a lot and Mrs. Ford has come forward and said that as long a we compromise as a team and unify and make a unified demonstration, she’ll back us financially. So I’m definitely going to hold her to her word.”
Ford, who linked arms with players, Lions coach Jim Caldwell and her three daughters at Ford Field last week, was not on the sideline for the anthem Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Lions did not immediately return a phone call from the Free Press seeking comment.
Abdullah was one of eight Lions players who took a knee for the singing of the national anthem before last week’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Only two of those players, linebackers Steve Longa and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, took a knee for the playing of the anthem Sunday, while the rest of the team linked arms on the sideline.
Longa’s father was struck by a car and killed last week. He kept his head down in prayer for the duration of anthem, and defensive end Cornelius Washington said “there were probably alternate reasons for” both Longa and Reeves-Maybin taking a knee.
“Those couple guys got some private stuff going on in their lives so that’s more than likely what it was,” Washington said.
NFL players protested en masse last week by taking a knee during the national anthem in a show of defiance against President Donald Trump’s criticisms of players and the league. Trump, in a series of escalating statements beginning Sept. 22, had demanded that swift punishment be given to those who refuse to stand during the national anthem — a gesture that began last season with Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who began kneeling for what he said was a protest against racial injustice.
Prior to the Falcons game on Sept. 24, no Detroit Lions players had taken part in protests during the national anthem over the past year, team officials said. Hours before that game, team president Rod Wood said the Lions’ top management would support anyone who might feel the urge to protest.
Lions defensive tackle Akeem Spence, who said his father lost a contract job over his decision to take a knee last week, was among the players who stood and linked arms with their teammates on Sunday.
Abdullah and Washington said the trade-off in following Ford’s request not to kneel will be worthwhile if she can help them have a more direct impact on problems within the community.
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“She just asked us not to take the knee and basically told us — not basically, she told us she would back and support financially as well as put her name on whatever issues that we wanted to try to attack,” Washington said. “But as far as the kneeling, she just I guess felt like there was better ways to get the point across. And at this point, people know what we’re kneeling for so now trying to take that next step in the plan of action to foster change is, that’s the next part and that’s the part she’s willing to get behind.”
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Both Abdullah and Washington said players have not decided how they want to commit whatever resources Ford makes available for them in the community.
“I don’t think it’s a cure-all kind of thing, but it’s a step in the right direction and then for somebody as powerful as her to say to come in and say she’ll stand up and she’ll back and put her name on whatever it is that we want to do, whatever it is that we want to attack, try to bring some real change about for the issues, to me that’s big,” Washington said.
“Me and a lot o teammates are conjugating and thinking up some things we can do to be more active in the community to bridge this racial disconnect in a lot of areas,” Abdullah said. “Not just the police department, not just here or there. a lot of different fronts we’re going to attack here. And we have her support, so as long as we have that little pact between us that we’re going to demonstrate in a manner that’s more unified as a team and she has our financial support, we’re going to do so.”
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