More than a dozen Cleveland Browns players staged the largest national anthem protest seen in the NFL so far, ahead of Monday’s preseason game against the New York Giants.
The group gathered by water coolers during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner and included tight end Seth DeValve, the first white NFL player to kneel in the protests, an initiative begun by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The protests have since regained prominence due to recent violence and racial tensions in Charlottesville, Virginia, where right-wing demonstrators and white supremacists clashed with counter-protesters.
DeValve was joined by Jabrill Peppers, linebackers Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey, running backs Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson and Terrence Magee, wide receivers Kenny Britt and Ricardo Louis, and defensive back Calvin Pryor, who dropped to one knee in a circle.
Outside of that circle, rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, offensive tackle Shon Coleman, punter Britton Colquitt, defensive back Jason McCourty and offensive lineman Marcus Martin all supported their teammates by standing next to them and putting their hands on their shoulders.
DeValve, 24, whose wife is black, told of his reasons for supporting his teammates in a post-game interview.
“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,” DeValve told reporters.
“I’m very grateful to the men and women who have given their lives and do a lot every day to protect this country and to serve this country and I want to honour them as much as I can.
“The United States is the greatest country in the world. It is because it provides opportunities to its citizens that no other country does. The issue is that it doesn’t provide equal opportunity to everybody.
“I wanted to support my African American teammates today who wanted to take a knee. We wanted to draw attention to the fact that there’s things in this country that still need to change.
“I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me and I want to do my part as well to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now.
“So I wanted to take the opportunity with my teammates during the anthem to pray for our country and also to draw attention to the fact that we have work to do and that’s why I did what I did.”
The participation of DeValve in the protest comes after Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Bennett claimed last week that the movement would be more effective if white players became involved.
The Cleveland Browns issued a statement at half-time in which it said that it has “a profound respect for our country’s national anthem, flag and the servicemen and servicewomen” but respects “the great liberties afforded by our country, including the freedom of personal expression.”
“Couple guys got together, spoke, we all spoke, voiced the way we want go about it,” Jabrill Peppers told reporters, MLive.com reported.
“Ultimately, we thought coming together and praying for our nation was the best outcome that we could have gotten for everyone to come together and express how we feel.”
The Browns went on to win the game 10-6 at the FirstEnergy Stadium in Ohio.