CLEVELAND -- Protests of the National Anthem have become prevalent in the National Football League over the last year since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat and later, knelt during the playing of The Star Spangled Banner.
In order to bring light to police-involved violence and social injustices, the Cleveland Browns staged the largest pregame demonstration prior to their Monday Night Football appearance against the New York Giants at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Prior to their 10-6 victory over the Giants, several players took a knee on the Browns’ sideline and others expressed their support by placing their hands on the shoulders of their kneeling teammates.
“There are a lot of great character men on this team,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “When we were approached about doing it, we just wanted to make sure guys were collectively doing it for the right causes, making sure we were all on the same page and doing it in a respective manor.
“It shows a lot of guys are brave to do things like that. I commend the guys that took a knee.”
Wide receivers Kenny Britt and Ricardo Louis, defensive backs Jamar Taylor, Calvin Pryor and Najee Murray, running backs Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson Jr., Brandon Wilds and Terrence Magee, linebackers Kirksey and Jamie Collins, rookie safety Jabrill Peppers and tight end Seth DeValve huddled in a circle behind their teammates on the sideline, knelt and held hands during the National Anthem.
Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, offensive linemen Shon Coleman and Marcus Martin, defensive back Jason McCourty and punter Britton Colquitt expressed their support by placing their hands on the shoulders of their teammates, the same sign of support that has been seen around the NFL in recent days.
According to those in the pregame huddle, Kirksey led the group in prayer while the National Anthem played.
“Just a group of guys, we just wanted to get together, take a knee and say a prayer, especially during a time that a lot of things are going on,” Kirksey said. “A lot of our guys felt that it was right to do something, and that’s what we did.”
The Browns’ demonstration came on the heels of recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists, including members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi organizations, protested the removal of a statue honoring Confederate general Robert E. Lee, and the “Unite the Right” rally took a violent turn when they clashed with counter-protesters.
During the battle of protesters, a 20-year old male from Maumee, Ohio, James Alex Fields Jr., drove his car through a crowd of people, killing one, 32-year old paralegal Heather Heyer, and injuring 19 others.
“There is a lot of stuff going on in society,” Kirksey said. “Being in the NFL on this big platform, we can be a voice for a lot of people. We meant no disrespect to anyone. We just felt it was the right time, and we needed to do it.
“We did it in a way that resembled prayer. We were just praying over the country and praying over things going on. We did it as respectfully as possible and we respect everything that happened with things in the military. We respect all of that. We just felt it was the right time for us to do this and say a prayer for this country.”