CLEVELAND - Late last week, Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett said during an appearance on ESPN that it would take a white NFL player protesting the national anthem to help move the polarizing conversation forward.
And while the Philadelphia Eagles' Chris Long and Seattle's Justin Britt have since stood alongside their protesting teammates, on Monday night, Cleveland Browns tight end Seth DeValve became the first NFL player to kneel during the national anthem.
DeValve was the only white player in a contingent of Browns players who opted to protest during the anthem prior to Cleveland's preseason victory over the New York Giants. After the game, DeValve, whose wife is black, explained his decision to kneel during the anthem, which has become a symbol for speaking out against racial injustice within the past year.
“I just want to start by saying it saddens me that in 2017 we have to do something like that. I personally would like to say that I love this country, I love our national anthem, I am very grateful for the men and women who have given their lives and give a lot every day to protect this country and to service this country. I want to honor them as much as I can. The United States is the greatest country in the world, and it is because it provides opportunities to its citizens that no other country does," DeValve, a second-year player out of Princeton, said.
"The issue is that it doesn’t provide equal opportunity to everybody. I want to support my teammates today who wanted to take a knee. We wanted to draw attention to the fact that there are things in the country that still need to change. I myself will be raising children who don’t look like me. I want to do my part, as well, to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment that we have right now. I wanted to take that opportunity with my teammates to pray for our country and also to draw attention to the fact that we have work to do. That’s why I did what I did.”
Among the Cleveland players who protested alongside DeValve on Monday night was wide receiver Kenny Britt, linebacker Jamie Collins, running back Isaiah Crowell, safety Jabrill Peppers, running back Duke Johnson, linebacker Christian Kirksey, cornerback Jamar Taylor, defensive back Najee Murray, wide receiver Ricardo Louis. Other Browns players -- including rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer -- stood next to the group while placing a hand on the shoulders of their kneeling teammates.
Early last week, Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson stated that he hoped none of his players would participate in such protest. Jackson came under fire for his comments and later sought to clarify his comments with a more than two-minute long prepared statement.
"I respect and support their right for peaceful protest; a right afforded to every American," Jackson said. "We’ve always made it clear to our players that they should embrace the platform they have as NFL players to improve our community and use their platform in a positive, thoughtful and responsible manner."
After the game on Monday, Jackson said the players who protested during the national anthem spoke to him before doing so.
National anthem protests have become a hot button issue in the NFL dating back to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to protest last preseason. Although Kaepernick is not currently with a team, other players have taken up his cause this preseason, including Bennett, who explained his decision to do so -- and the importance of a white player joining the cause -- during his ESPN appearance last week.
“At this point, you just gotta keep speaking and hopefully other guys will join you," Bennett said. "I honestly believe that it would take a white player to really get things changed. When somebody from the other side understands and they step up and they speak about it, it would change the whole conversation because you bring somebody who doesn’t really have to be part of the conversation to make themselves vulnerable in front of it. I think when that happens things will really take a big jump.”
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