All the hoopla over the Nike ad campaign lionizing Colin Kaepernick has obscured the fact that hardly any players are kneeling this season during the national anthem.
The same two Miami Dolphins who protested by kneeling throughout the preseason and Week 1 did so again Sunday, while Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch continued to sit, although he has never explained why he refuses to stand for the anthem.
A few players reportedly remained in the tunnel during the anthem, and at least two raised fists, but that’s still a far cry from the 16 players who were still sitting or kneeling by the end of the 2017 regular season, not to mention the nearly 200 who protested in Week 3 after being criticized by President Trump.
The drop-off comes despite the NFL’s failure during the off-season to implement an on-field policy requiring players to stand for the flag. The league remains in negotiations with the players’ union over a May proposal that was put on hold two months later.
One reason for the decline: Some of last season’s most dedicated kneelers are no longer doing so.
Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett, who led the protests last season in Seattle, skipped the ceremony and remained off the field Sunday during the national anthem, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia.
New York Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon, a regular 2017 kneeler, told NJ.com in August he would put his protest on hold to wait for the outcome of the union negotiations, as did Giants safety Michael Thomas, who routinely knelt last season as a Dolphin.
The NFL is not expected to issue a policy on standing during the national anthem this season, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Miami wide receivers Kenny Stills and Alfred Wilson are the only two players who have taken knees during the anthem in the 2018 regular season. Stills told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that he planned to keep protesting, saying “it’s not going to change.”
My brothers!!!🏾@KSTiLLS @iThinkIsee12 https://t.co/MbfkYfFRWY
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 16, 2018
The two players drew kudos again Sunday from free-agent quarterback Kaepernick, who called them “[m]y brothers” and praised them on Twitter for their “protest against police brutality and social injustice.”
Nike released an ad campaign shortly before the 2018 NFL regular season began Sept. 6 featuring Kaepernick with the caption, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Kaepernick has not been signed to a team since he led the take-a-knee protests in the 2016 regular season, and has filed a grievance alleging team owners colluded to keep him out of the league.
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