DAVIE — When the Alabama Crimson Tide visited the White House after winning last season’s national championship, Minkah Fitzpatrick was nowhere to be seen.
Fitzpatrick was on a pre-draft visit with the 49ers in San Francisco.
“It was scheduled in,” Fitzpatrick, a defensive back drafted by the Dolphins in the first round, said Tuesday. “Not lined up very well.”
If not for the visit, it appears likely Fitzpatrick would have been mingling with teammates, coach Nick Saban and President Donald Trump. Fitzpatrick had been to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. once before, after his freshman season, and enjoyed meeting Barack Obama.
“It was cool,” Fitzpatrick said.
“We flew up to the White House, got a little tour of one of the wings of the White House. We sat in his library, checked it out, looked at some books and Obama came into this one room. I shook hands with him. He talked with us for a little bit, took some pictures and then there was like a little ceremony at the end. Overall, it was a great experience.”
But it’s one the Philadelphia Eagles won’t have, now that Trump canceled the traditional visit and some Eagles players indicated they weren’t going to attend anyway. It has caused a national flap over what for years had largely been a traditional, non-partisan celebration of American sports.
“I would love to do that because it’s the result of you winning a championship,” Dolphins cornerback Tony Lippett said.
“But the rest of it, I don’t really know,” Lippett added, referring to the political controversy between Trump and NFL players who kneel during the anthem to protest social injustice. Ironically, none of the Eagles was kneeling during the anthem last season.
Dolphins defensive end Charles Harris said he doubts many athletes consider White House visits motivation during a season.
“I’m trying to win each and every day,” Harris said. “So that’s not a part of anybody’s mental (approach). That’s something that comes with it. After you get to the highest platform and you win, then that’s on your mind.
“But when you’re on the bottom, you aren’t thinking about that.”
We’ll start to learn soon enough if the nixed Eagles trip is an aberration. The Stanley Cup Final is nearing a conclusion, so imagine if the Capitals close out the series with Las Vegas but aren’t invited for a crosstown celebration ceremony.
Imagine if this tradition is ending, period.
“I don’t know,” Lippett said. “Guess you’d have to find a new tradition, I don’t know.”
DAVIE — Talk to anyone in the Dolphins’ organization, starting with Stephen Ross at the top, and there is a widespread opinion of Kenny Stills that he embodies everything what they want in a player.
He produces on Sundays, which used to be pretty much the only criteria that mattered in the NFL, but he also does everything else right. He’s reliable in practice, deeply loyal to Adam Gase’s vision and virtually unreachable on off days because he devotes so much of his free time to the betterment of South Florida’s youth.
Dolphins coaches point him out to younger players as the model of what they should aspire to be.
That would all seem to make Stills highly coveted, and the Dolphins didn’t hesitate to re-sign him a year ago, but he wonders whether he’d find himself unemployed like Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid if he wasn’t under contract. Players who have committed actual crimes have had an easier time finding work.
Actually, Stills doesn’t wonder. He’s pretty sure what would happen.
“That’s a good question,” he said, pausing to give it real consideration. “Look at what’s happening to the guys that have protested that are free agents. That’s my answer to the question.”
Another question: Who wouldn’t want this guy? And how can it be that the league simultaneously celebrates his community service and bans him from protesting on the platform he’s earned?
The NFL ham-handedly slapped together a policy last week that requires players to kneel or stay out of sight during the national anthem, and anyone who follows the Dolphins has been waiting for Stills’ response. He took questions on it for the first time after today’s practice, and his eloquence was a brilliant reminder of the depth of his cause.
It’s not rage, at least not in Stills’ case. It’s a patient, positive approach and it’s undeterred by the league telling him to let it go. It’s one of the attributes that makes him an appealing leader. Stills isn’t here to go to war. He’s here for peace.
He’s reasonable enough to see the other side, too, and while he doesn’t like that the players’ message has been twisted to be seen as unpatriotic or anti-police or whatever other interpretation is chosen, he grasps the predicament that presents for the owners.
It also hurts, and he’s not hiding that either.
The anthem clash is one of the ways in which it’s painstakingly clear that the NFL is not a partnership between players and management. Stills traces this most recent divergence back to the start of Kaepernick’s protest, when he felt the league chose to be combative rather than supportive. And even then, his words convey lament rather than anger.
“I just feel like from the beginning,” he said, “if the narrative would’ve been set one way and the league would’ve had our backs and really put the message out there the right way and tried to educate people on the work that we’re doing and why we’re doing it, we might be in a different place than we are right now.”
Stills was restrained but effective in discussing the policy, opting to let his actions speak for him and saying, “I feel like you guys know how I would feel about the anthem policy … I really don’t want to get involved in some back-and-forth and more divisiveness than we already have going.”
This is the ideal player to stand at the forefront of the movement for using football to advance racial equality, and he embraces that responsibility. The NFL would be better off with more guys like this, but it seems headed toward making him adversary. His contract expires after the 2020 season, and all bets are off when that happens.
“All I can do is continue to do the work that I’ve been doing,” Stills said when asked about the contradiction of being a Walter Payton Man of the Year Award nominee as well the face of a protest the league seeks to squash. “The people here that work for the Miami Dolphins organization see and recognize the work that I’ve been doing and know really who I am as a person, and that’s all I can really stand and focus on.”
Stills might keep kneeling. If he doesn’t, it certainly won’t be because he’s been intimidated by Roger Goodell or Donald Trump.
He said he’ll take his time contemplating whether to continue protesting between now and the fall. Under the new policy, the team would be fined for any action like that. It also has the ability to level its own penalties on the player, which would set up an incredibly awkward situation considering how valuable he is.
He’s not preoccupied by that hypothetical, and he’s not the type to let himself be bogged down by just about anything. He believes the league is trying to silence him, but he’s still as upbeat as ever.
“Do I feel silenced?” he said. “No, I’m right here talking to you guys right now. Whenever I have a message to get out, I seem to find a way to get my message out.”
DAVIE — Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has moved around on his position regarding players protesting during the national anthem, and a Wall Street Journal article revealed that Donald Trump had a substantial influence on his decision to require players to stand or remain in the locker room last season.
Ross, in a sworn deposition for Colin Kaepernick’s collusion grievance against the NFL, said Trump’s comments to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones were relayed to the rest of the ownership and changed the way he viewed players kneeling.
“I was totally supportive of (protesting players) until Trump made his statement,” Ross said in his deposition, according to the WSJ. “I thought he changed the dialogue.”
Ross also said he believed the protests were hurting the Dolphins financially.
His testimony was not a huge surprise considering Ross has occasionally mentioned Trump over the past two years and made a similar statement when the Dolphins enacted a stand-or-stay-in-the-locker-room rule last October. That came two weeks after Trump said players who kneel should be kicked out of the league and referred anyone who protests during the anthem as “a son of an (expletive).”
“It’s a different dialogue today,” Ross said before the Titans game Oct. 8. “Whenever you’re dealing with the flag, you’re dealing with something different. (Trump) has changed that whole paradigm of what protest is. I think it’s incumbent upon the players today, because of how the public is looking at it, is to stand and salute the flag.”
He added, “I really applaud those guys, but I think it’s different today from the standpoint of Trump has made it all about patriotism with the flag. I think it’s so important today, because that’s what the country’s looking at, that we look at it differently and there will be different ways of protesting or getting your cause out there by the athletes.”
That rule lasted less than a month before Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas and Julius Thomas convinced coach Adam Gase to rescind it, and the players continued kneeling the rest of the season. In his deposition, Ross indicated the decision to bar players from kneeling was his decision, not Gase’s as was conveyed at the time.
The NFL handed down a policy last week that essentially mirrored what the Dolphins attempted. Players are required to stand and “show respect” for the American flag during the anthem, remain out of sight. The league will fine organizations that have violations of the rule and allows teams to establish their own conduct guidelines as long as they’re consistent with the league’s.
When players began kneeling at the start of the 2016 season, Ross was arguably their most vocal supporter among the owners. He waited in the locker room in Seattle after the season opener to address the media and express that he stood by them.
“I don’t think it was any lack of respect,” he said. “I think everybody here on our team and this whole organization respects the flag and what it stands for and the soldiers and everything. These guys are making a conversation of something that’s a very important topic in this country, and I’m 100 percent supportive of them.
“It’s a country where you’re allowed to indicate what your preferences are and how your feelings are. That’s what makes it so great. I think it’s great and I applaud them for what they’re doing.”
Ross has supported the players’ cause in other ways through programs and scholarships locally, as well as through the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality. His team also gave Stills the community service award each of the last two seasons.
How gracious of the NFL to allow its players the privilege of hanging on to their precious freedom of speech.
As long as they exercise it where no one can hear them.
Just when it seemed like Roger Goodell and the owners couldn’t botch the national anthem issue any worse, here comes this week’s so-called solution. Never underestimate this league’s capacity for debacles.
It’s bad that the new policy is full of holes, putting coaches in a spot where they’ll have to uphold something ambiguous and setting up what they’ll see as needless conflicts between them and their players.
It’s bad that the players had zero input, undercutting all the propaganda the NFL puts forth about this league being a partnership and how football is family.
It’s bad that this is framed as an issue of patriotism, when few actions are as patriotic as risking future employment prospects because you want this country to be better. The protesting players aren’t making an anti-American, anti-military statement, and Donald Trump doesn’t get the final word on how their demonstrations should be interpreted.
It’s even a little bad that the league wasn’t sophisticated enough to do its dirty work without tripping over itself. The new protocol passed in a slipshod process that sounded like a straw poll. It took mere minutes before some owners voiced dissent and less than a day before ESPN uncovered that there was never an official vote despite Goodell declaring there was unanimous support.
But the real problem isn’t the flaws in the policy. It’s the compulsion to form a policy at all.
While the league might technically have the legal right to limit how players express themselves in the workplace, why does it want to? Does a 10 percent drop in ratings — at least some of which is self-inflicted by how much the NFL has diluted its product — for what is still by far the nation’s most popular television program justify quieting the men who make it worth watching? Just because it can doesn’t mean it should.
The protests have been twisted by talking heads and politicians, and the actual message has been grossly misrepresented. It’s not anti-police, anti-military, anti-Republican or anti-white. How many times do the players have to say that? It wasn’t even anti-Trump until he went on the offensive.
It constantly needs to be restated that their purpose is to call for racial equality, which still eludes our country. Shining a light on it is a positive for all of us.
It’s not a conversation that needs to be shut down. Even the players who disagree with the demonstrations ought to bristle at the league clamping down on their colleagues’ freedom.
The protests initially prompted the NFL to launch a campaign and a series of meetings aimed at coming alongside the protesting players, but the new anthem policy brings motives into question. Was it all just to get them to stop kneeling?
Two days before it handed down the anthem policy, the league worked with the Players Coalition to finalize a $90 million commitment to social justice programs. That money will help people regardless of the true intent behind it, but it’ll won’t feel so heartfelt if it eventually surfaces that it was meant to balance out what came next.
Zeroing in on South Florida, look at the potential mess this creates for the Miami Dolphins, who had a hard enough time navigating the situation the past two years.
The Dolphins and the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality have many meaningful efforts running locally and nationally, and a lot of them are geared toward social justice.
They do extensive work with Miami-Dade County schools in the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, which uses mentors and educators to help minority students graduate and become men who will contribute to society. Ross personally funds the budget for R.I.S.E. The organization awarded grants to 11 community-driven groups this year, including several that focus on empowering young black people. They also facilitate various events that with youth programs and local police departments.
Ross’ passion is evident, but he doesn’t have the answer for this issue. He was the league’s most vocal owner backing players who protested in 2016. Last year he said he wants players to stand. He’s publicly agreed with some of Trump’s comments on it and denounced others. No doubt he’s not on board with the president’s most recent pronouncement that “maybe you shouldn’t be in the country” if you don’t stand for the anthem.
Ross was in the room when the NFL laid out its policy, and there’s been no indication of what he voiced in there. He hasn’t issued a statement.
The most prominent protestor on his team is receiver Kenny Stills, an exemplary employee in every way. Stills is what every company wants. He’s arguably the best skill player on the roster, an ideal leader in the locker room and winner of the team’s community service award the last two seasons.
The Dolphins aren’t really going to do battle with Kenny Stills, are they? The guy who does everything right?
If he kneels, as he has the last two seasons, he’ll be in violation of league and team rules (the NFL left room for organizations to formulate their own policy as long as it’s compatible with the league’s). It’s unfathomable that Adam Gase would consider penalizing Stills over this with even so much as a light fine.
That might be the most complicated individual scenario in the league. It’ll be much simpler for teams when it’s the 53rd guy on the roster.
Gase, by the way, obviously wants no part of any of this. Every waking hour is devoted to scheming outside zone runs and bubble screens. Someone has to tell him when a holiday’s coming up or when hurricane preparations need to be made. For better or worse, he spends little time concerning himself with anything beyond the football field. He truly just wants to coach.
This feels like a dark hour for free speech, but there’s an upside to the fiasco. Trying to stifle a movement invariably makes it louder, and some players who have been wavering about whether to get involved will be compelled to join it.
It looks like players are still allowed to raise a fist or find some other way to express themselves as long as don’t drop to a knee, and the media will report vigilantly on players who stay in the locker room and continue enhance their platform.
Maybe fans will take up the cause and kneel. Goodell can’t fine them.
Best of all, this policy might very well crumble before the NFL ever gets a chance to enforce it. There are months to go before the first preseason game and longer until opening weekend, and this edict hardly looks sturdy enough to last that long.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has gone back and forth on the issue of NFL players protesting racial inequality over the past two years by kneeling during the national anthem. He was once one of the most outspoken owners in support of those players, but now is firmly against those demonstrations.
Ross told the New York Daily Newson Monday that “all of our players will be standing” when Miami begins the 2018 season.
Several Dolphins players have kneed during the anthem during the last two seasons. Wide receiver Kenny Stills, who won the team’s award for community service each year, has been kneeling since the 2016 opener. Julius Thomas, Michael Thomas, Arian Foster, Laremy Tunsil, Jay Ajayi, Maurice Smith, Jelani Jenkins and Jordan Phillips have also protested during the anthem, and a few of those players are expected to still be on the team this year.
The organization did not immediately return a request to clarify or elaborate on Ross’ comments.
Stills has not directly responded to Ross’ comments, but tweeted out a video this morning of comedian Dave Chappelle talking about white people’s outrage over the protests.
As he did last fall, when the team briefly banned kneeling, Ross is siding with Donald Trump’s position. Trump has ripped anthem protests repeatedly, and Ross believes he turned the issue into one of patriotism and supporting the military.
“When that message changed, and everybody was interpreting it as that was the reason, then I was against kneeling,” Ross said. “I like Donald. I don’t support everything he says. Overall, I think he was trying to make a point, and his message became what kneeling was all about. From that standpoint, that is the way the public is interpreting it. So I think that’s really incumbent upon us to adopt that. That’s how, I think, the country now is interpreting the kneeling issue.”
Ross added that he remains in communication with Trump. He made those comments after being honored in New York by the Jackie Robinson Foundation for championing equality.
Last week, in an appearance on CNBC with defensive end Cameron Wake at his side, Ross praised Trump for the thriving stock market. When asked to give him a grade as president, he said it was too early to tell.
“Things are going well,” Ross said. “You can’t agree with some of the things, but Donald is really getting people to think differently.”
In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s comments last September, Ross answered with a statement calling for “unifying leadership… not more divisiveness.” He defended kneeling players as “smart, young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone.”
Just two weeks later, Ross called for players to stop kneeling, and coach Adam Gase implemented a policy requiring that them to either stand for the anthem or remain in the tunnel.
“Whenever you’re dealing with the flag, you’re dealing with something different,” Ross said then. “(Trump) has changed that whole paradigm of what protest is. I think it’s incumbent upon the players today, because of how the public is looking at it, is to stand and salute the flag.”
Publicly and privately, players around the NFL have argued that Trump doesn’t get to determine the purpose of their protest or dictate the conversation around it.
Gase, had mostly avoided the topic since it surfaced in the summer of 2016 and said it wasn’t his place to limit players’ freedom of expression. When he banned kneeling, he refused to explain why he was doing so.
“I don’t need a reason,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do.”
Within a month, he reversed course. When Stills, Thomas and Thomas confronted Gase about the rule and said it was interfering with their pre-game routine, he rescinded it. He gave minimal explanation for that, too.
“My biggest thing I’m looking for is–everything’s football related to me,” he said. “We support our guys when they do anything outside our building to try to help our community. In Kenny’s case, he’s really branched out to not only South Florida, outside of there. We’re very supportive of trying to help as many people as our players can try to reach. I feel like our guys do a really good job of that.”
Separately, Ross said he’s been in touch with former Yankees star Derek Jeter, who recently took over the Marlins and discussed some of the obstacles for a team succeeding in South Florida.
“Miami is a great city. It’s not a great sports town,” Ross told the Daily News. “They haven’t been winning. He has to start all over again. I think you have to be patient and give him the time it’s going to take to build a winner. He’s a very smart, capable guy. He was a great baseball player. Hopefully he’ll be a great executive. The best way to get a fan base is to win.”
MIAMI GARDENS—There was a change in the Dolphins’ handling of protests during the national anthem over the past week. Stephen Ross has been one of the most outspoken owners in the league in his support of players demonstrating, and coach Adam Gase has completely stayed out of it until now.
The conversation around players who kneel has changed since Donald Trump got involved by calling those who do so “sons of bitches” and saying they should be fired, which increased push back against those players.
The Dolphins have had multiple players protest during the anthem over the past two years, saying they are doing so as part of an overall effort to raise awareness about racial inequality in the United States. Heading into today’s game against the Titans, however, that was not permitted because Gase said they must stand if they were on the field.
“There was just a decision made that we were gonna stand,” he said. “If guys didn’t want to stand, stay back in the locker room.”
When asked to specify who made the decision, Gase said, “I did,” with no elaboration.
Earlier in the day, Ross praised players for the statement they’ve made and the national discussion they initiated. He also said at this time, in light of Trump framing it as an issue of patriotism, it was “incumbent upon the players” to stand for the anthem.
“I really applaud those guys, but I think it’s different today from the standpoint of Trump has made it all about patriotism with the flag,” he said. “I think it’s so important today, because that’s what the country’s looking at, that we look at it differently and there will be different ways of protesting or getting your cause out there by the athletes.”
Ross initially said the decision for all Dolphins to stand was based on a team vote, though it was later clarified that Gase made the call. Gase spoke with players about the issue before and after forming that policy and explained it to Stills, Thomas and Thomas during the week.
Stills and Julius Thomas were among the six Miami players who kneeled at the Jets game, two days after Trump’s comments. They continued their protest last weekend in London, and Michael Thomas joined them. There was no indication that they intended to stop, and Julius Thomas had said he was committed to doing it all season.
“We were told to either stand for the anthem or stay in the locker room, so that’s what we did,” Stills said. “It’s not about what I think about it or anything like that. It’s about the work that we’re doing. It’s never been about the protests or the flag or any of that. We’ll just continue to focus on the work that we’re doing in the community and we’ve got some plans and things in the works with the NFL, so that’s what we’re working on.”
Ross mentioned that as well when he attended the weekly pre-game tailgate as part of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, an organization dedicated improving race relations. He was optimistic that players would find “different ways of protesting or getting your cause out” that didn’t involve a controversy about their patriotism.
When Michael Thomas was asked about Gase’s decision, he echoed Ross’ point and was upbeat about the players’ movement going forward.
“We’re coming up with a solution,” he said. “It’s all because we wanted to provide more resources to our community and bring awareness to inequalities and injustice, so now I think the league’s heard us. They’ve heard the cries of their players and they’re willing to work with us, so very soon that’s going to happen.
“Very soon, everybody who sees what’s going to come out of it will see that it was never about actually protesting the flag, that it wasn’t about disrespecting our military. It was about trying to bring light to the issues going on in our community. The league heard us, and it’s going to be good.”
The late-night TV hosts won’t stand for President Donald Trump blasting NFL players for their anthem protests.
With CBS’ Stephen Colbert leading the charge, the hosts mocked Trump on Monday evening with a series of barbs that — no matter which side of the argument you’re on — you knew were coming.
First, during prime time, Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity blasted players for their protests this past weekend in traditional commentary (“Just because something is legal doesn’t mean you ought to do it,” Carlson said). Then, the comics had their say, interspersing video of Trump’s comments from Alabama with their own shots.
Colbert played the tape of Trump calling protesting NFL players “sons of bitches.”
“That was unnecessary roughness,” Colbert said. “There should be a flag on that play. And I’m going to say, a confederate flag.”
After playing a tape of Trump saying his comments were unrelated to race, Colbert went for the jugular.
“Kneeling during the national anthem has everything to do with race,” Colbert said. “Just like your presidency.”
Over on Comedy Central, “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah pointed out that many NFL owners had supported Trump in the election. Noah said many of those owners criticized the president over the weekend and “you know it got to him.”
Noah added, “How can one person be on the wrong side of everything?”
Noah also mocked the notion this isn’t a racial issue.
“I don’t know if Trump is racist, but I do know he definitely prefers white people to black people,” Noah said.
On NBC, “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon posted an “Air Bud” parody featuring a golden retriever.
“Excuse me, Mr. President,” the caption read. “But I am literally a son of a b****. And there’s no rule against peaceful protests, just like there’s no rule against dogs playing basketball.”
After Sunday’s game against the New York Jets, Dolphins defensive back and social activist Michael Thomas wondered why the U.S. president would concern himself with football players protesting social injustice at a time when multiple world issues are confronting him.
“North Korea said today that since President Trump has declared war on the country, it has the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers even when they are not inside their airspace border,” NBC’s Seth Meyers said. “ ‘Oh, no you don’t,’ said Trump — to a black athlete kneeling.”
Fallon listed a few football rule changes inspired by Trump.
“Someone has to get sacked every five minutes, just like at the White House,” Fallon said.
Colbert and Noah took issue with Trump mocking recent safety rules in football designed to reduce concussions.
“Forget being president,” Noah said. “What kind of human being wants more brain damage?”
While doing an impression of Trump, Colbert said, “There’s nothing wrong with brain damage. Look how far I got.”
NEW YORK—The Dolphins have come a long way in a year when it comes to discussing race issues, politics and national anthem protests.
Michael Thomas and others tried to hold a meeting prior to the 2016 season opener in Seattle so the team could work toward a unified demonstration. It was such a difficult topic that some players walked out while it was still being discussed.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s recent verbal attack on players who protest, though, it was a completely different conversation when players convened at their New Jersey hotel Saturday night.
“It was totally the opposite of what happened last year,” Thomas said. “We brought it up to the team and black, white—it didn’t matter. Everybody was like, ‘Hey, let’s figure out a way to do something where we’re all together.’ Locking arms? Yeah, everybody felt like they could do that. I thought that was huge for us to do, so I felt like for today, especially since coaches are trying to get involved, the team owner’s trying to get involved, why not do that?
“But obviously there were some players who felt convicted in their heart to take a knee today, and everybody supported that, too. It was great to have everybody doing something together as a team to just join the conversation. You can no longer stay silent. You can no longer be neutral, either.”
Thomas was one of four players who kneeled during the anthem last season. He stood and locked arms with the majority of his teammates before Sunday’s 20-6 loss to the Jets.
At least five players chose to kneel. Kenny Stills, who did so last year, was joined by Jay Ajayi, Maurice Smith, Julius Thomas and Laremy Tunsil. Another member of the organization kneeled as well, but his identity was inconclusive in person and based on videos and photos.
Michael Thomas did not intend to continue kneeling this year and said he didn’t kneel Sunday “just because I wanted to be with the team.” He’s obviously not opposed to taking a knee and voiced support for those who did.
He was one of several players who expressed belief that their protests are not divisive. He sees it as inclusive.
“It is huge for us to have our team behind us,” he said. “More people joining the conversation this year is huge. Even players who don’t want to protest, at least this year they’re saying, ‘I stand behind my brother. Because the cause that he’s fighting for means a lot to him, I support him.’ That’s huge.
“It’s obviously inclusive if you’ve got black, white, player, owner, coaching staff—everybody all together. It’s obviously inclusive. It’s in a positive light.”
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—Donald Trump wielded the powerful reach of the presidency to shred activist football players, and five Miami Dolphins answered by kneeling during the national anthem this afternoon.
Who made better use of their platform?
Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas, Laremy Tunsil, Jay Ajayi and Maurice Smith are the ones actually seeking to make America great in this exchange, seeing an opportunity for peaceful resistance and not letting it slip past them. There was nothing bombastic or profane about their demonstration, no venomous attacks like Trump’s assertion that those five and anyone like them is a “son of a bitch” who should be fired.
Only one of these approaches is truly un-American, and it’s the one in which the authority figure abuses his position by calling for those who speak up to lose their livelihood.
On the flipside, there’s nothing unpatriotic about the players’ civil protest. It’s the most American thing they could have done, and it’s misdirection to attempt to cast it as anti-military or anti-flag.
It’s not even entirely about Trump, though he’s the one who directly triggered this in Miami’s locker room. That would be grossly oversimplifying what’s at the heart of their movement. He’s merely a symptom of the illness.
“It was for this country,” said Jarvis Landry, who stood in the middle of the five and hugged each one of them afterward.
Trump’s the one who practically begged for this wave of protests, whether he realized it or not. It’s nearly impossible to differentiate between intentional and unintentional with him.
At first glance it looks like his comments Friday backfired, but maybe he wanted this. Perhaps he enjoyed seeing the reaction ripple through the league, spreading even to another continent because the Jaguars and Ravens played in London, as he plays to his fervent base. Maybe this makes his side dig in harder.
“I just felt like the president was trying to use fear, and we had a lot of guys that wanted to take a knee and I didn’t want to leave them out to dry by themselves,” Stills said. “I didn’t want to be intimidated by the president. It was time for me to get back in and join the protest, and with the support of my teammates and everyone locking arms, it was the perfect time.”
Tunsil wasn’t part of last year’s demonstrations, but part of him wanted to be. As a rookie, he admitted he wouldn’t have been comfortable explaining himself if he’d done it. There’s a lot of heat that comes with taking these stands.
This year, he was all-in. He made his decision instantly Friday night.
“I had to stand up for my rights,” Tunsil said. “Basically, he was talking to African-American players because we’re standing up for our rights and we want to take knees. But he called us sons of bitches? You’re the president of the United States. You’re not supposed to do anything like that.
“But y’all want him in office and that’s what y’all got. Now he’s calling African Americans sons of bitches because we’re standing up for our rights. What’s going on in America? People look at the NFL as though we just want to entertain people and amuse people; they don’t respect us. It tells you a lot when the president comes out and calls us sons of bitches.”
Based on the explanations most of these players have given, their intent seems to be unity rather than discord. They’re not looking for enemies. They want allies.
They’re demonstrating because they’ve seen injustice much of their lives and they want change. They’re letting others who share the struggle know they’re not alone, and they hope it prompts those of us who don’t endure daily discrimination take notice.
“I’ve done everything I can to try and bring people together, and people still aren’t understanding,” Stills said. “They’re still not listening. At some point in time, we’ve gotta step back and have tough conversations. You’ve gotta listen to people that don’t agree with you.
“I promise you, we’re trying to do something that’s right… We’re not trying to divide anybody, we’re not trying to disrespect anybody. We’ve never been that way. I just encourage people to have a tough conversation.”
Race-based injustice isn’t a new trend. It’s been part of this country’s heritage since its inception. The variable is how much white people notice and how much of a voice black people feel they have to speak against it.
Athletes have never had the ability to be heard like they are now, thanks to the massive reach of social media and the unprecedented visibility of sports on television. It’s inspiring to see them use it for something that matters.
“Before I’m a football player, I’m a man,” Thomas said. “That is above any profession we all have. I’ve heard the comments that this isn’t the time or place to do that, and you’re right that I could have a rally or invite people from back home—people that feel the same way I do—and how many people will I touch? How many people will I get to talk to? A couple hundred, maybe a thousand.
“But I took the opportunity today to show millions of people that I’m not OK with somebody trying to prevent someone from standing for what they think is important. I think that’s what our country’s about. That should always be respected. To have somebody calling someone silently protesting a son of a bitch is past what I believe is acceptable.”
And they’re doing it at great risk, though these particular players are fortunate to have the full support of billionaire owner Stephen Ross. He stood arm-in-arm between Reshad Jones and Mike Pouncey during the anthem, and no owner in the league has been as outspoken on this topic. He cleared the way for his employees to act freely by releasing a sharp statement against Trump’s remarks Saturday.
Many don’t have that security. Colin Kaepernick isn’t a great quarterback, but he’s good enough to have a job somewhere in this league and remains unemployed. Even as the disappointment over not getting to play lingers, surely he was proud of what happened today. He’s winning bigger off the field than he ever did on it.
Smith is an undrafted rookie at the back of the Dolphins’ depth chart at safety, someone most fans wouldn’t blink if the team cut him. He’s 22 and has no idea at this point how many years he’ll be able to earn an NFL salary. Some of protesters are so valuable that they can do pretty much anything and count on having a job, but there are many players like Smith who must weigh such consequences.
Many Dolphins wore “#IMWITHKAP” t-shirts before the game, as did strength and conditioning assistant Mike Wahle. He played offensive guard for 11 years, including a Pro Bowl season in 2005. More significantly, he’s a product of the United States Naval Academy.
“I have to put my health on the line for the man next to me; How could I not respect someone that’s gonna put their life on the line for the man next to them and for the people back home?” Thomas said. “If somebody wants to say that’s what I have no respect for, then they’re just using that to prevent people from seeking equality.”
We all like to think we have the guts to make a stand of that magnitude, but I probably don’t. I’m too concerned with my comfort and the certain backlash from family, friends and co-workers. I’d be an unlikely candidate to put my easy existence on the line.
It’s also admirable that players can compartmentalize so effectively, leaving one intense situation to step into a completely different one moments later.
The anthem wasn’t weighing on anyone once the Dolphins and Jets took the field for kickoff. It’s absurd to draw any connection between the player demonstration and the ensuing 20-6 loss to the Jets. No one who’s been around NFL players would think that. It makes no impact on their job itself, unlike how Trump’s fixation continuing to distract him from one he’s been doing so ineptly the last eight months.
“We stand up for our rights, we take a knee—that’s point-blank simple,” Tunsil said. “After that’s over, we’re playing football. Put the ball on the ground, and we’ll play football.”
NEW YORK–The NFL is bracing for a wave of national anthem protests today in the wake of Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about players who have been demonstrating. One of the most prominent players to do so last year was Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills.
Stills said going into the season he would no longer kneel during the anthem, but he’s surely been thinking about that this weekend. Few Dolphins players are as likely to take a political stance today as he is.
Stills hasn’t given any public response to Trump, but here’s one indication of what he’s thinking this morning: He tweeted out a photo of himself wearing a shirt that reads #IMWITHKAP with the caption “In case you didn’t know!”
That’s a reference to former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is credited with starting the anthem protest movement last summer. Kaepernick remains out of a job, seemingly in part because of his activism.
Stills and safety Michael Thomas, as well as former Dolphins Arian Foster and Jelani Jenkins, kneeled during the anthem at last year’s opener in Seattle.
Stills and Thomas continued demonstrating the remainder of the season, saying they were taking a stand against racial inequality. Neither intended to continue kneeling this season, saying they’d made their point last year and it was time to take different action. All Dolphins players stood for the national anthem at last week’s game against the Chargers.