The NFL’s preseason is underway and pregame demonstrations that have blurred the lines between sports and politics over the past few years have already resumed. Players faced more backlash from President Donald Trump last week, who remains a constant critic of the protests during the national anthem.
But Trump and many other Americans opposed to the demonstrations continue to misrepresent the players’ stance or demonstrate a basic understanding of why they are protesting in the first place. To make clear what the protests are about, here’s a list of things to know, including the players who have participated in them and the history connecting the NFL and the “Star Spangled Banner.”
1) It started as a way to bring attention to issues of police brutality and racial injustice in America
The movement began when former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench while the national anthem played before San Francisco’s first three preseason games in 2016. But Kaepernick’s protests didn’t gain notoriety until the third game. In his first public comments to the media about the protests, Kaepernick said he was raising awareness to police brutality and racial injustice.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick would amend his protest by kneeling during the song for the final preseason game. The shift happened after a he had a meeting with former NFL player and Green Beret Nate Boyer, who suggested that kneeling would be more respectful. Kaepernick went on to kneel before every regular season game in 2016. He was joined by teammate Eric Reid, and others around the league who either kneeled or participated in other forms of protests during the anthem.
According to Vox, at least 200 players have participated in pregame demonstrations since 2016. Though some of the players have protested for other reasons, like opposing President Trump or showing solidarity with their teammates.