The NFL’s first full slate of preseason games kicked off Thursday with another round of player protests during the National Anthem, just a month after the league suspended what was supposed to be a new policy barring such demonstrations.
Several players on Thursday took a knee, raised a fist or did not take to the field while the anthem was played before a dozen preseason games across the country.
The anthem protests — meant to draw attention to racial injustice — have happened with varying participation since 2016, pulling the NFL into a public debate that has seen President Donald Trump call on team owners to stem them.
In Philadelphia, Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett walked out of the tunnel Thursday during the anthem and headed to the team bench ahead of a game against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers, the Philadelphia Daily News reported.
Eagles captain Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback De’Vante Bausby raised their fists during the song.
“I just think it’s important to keep this conversation going, that we don’t let it get stagnant,” Jenkins said after the game, according to NFL.com. “You know, as we understand it, everybody’s kind of waiting to see what the league is going to do. … It’s just my personal decision to keep these things at the forefront.”
In Miami, Dolphins wide receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson knelt during the anthem ahead of their game against Tampa Bay, the Miami Herald reported. Dolphins defensive end Robert Quinn raised his fist during the song, according to WTVJ.
In Jacksonville, several Jaguars — including Jalen Ramsey, Telvin Smith, Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon — were not on the field as the anthem played ahead of their game against the New Orleans Saints, The Florida Times-Union reported.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many players overall protested during Thursday’s 12 NFL preseason games.
NFL had shelved its new anti-protest policy
The NFL said it won’t punish the players who took part in Thursday’s protests, noting it had shelved what was supposed to be a new policy on anthem conduct until it reaches an agreement with the NFL Players Association.
In May, team owners, reacting to a significant public backlash against the protests, issued a new policy requiring that all team personnel who decide to be on the field during the song “shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.”
Players would be allowed to stay in the locker room during the anthem if they chose — but if any team personnel did kneel on the field, the team would be fined. The teams then could decide how and whether to punish offending team personnel.
But in mid-July, the players association filed a grievance, saying the new policy infringed upon player rights and was enacted without consulting the union.
A week later, the NFL said it would put the new policy on hold so it could discuss a solution with the association.
Colin Kaepernick kicked off the protests in 2016
The anthem controversy has been rumbling since 2016, when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the anthem to draw attention to racial injustice.
An increasing number of players joined him, but critics perceived the protests as unpatriotic and disrespectful of the American flag and the US military.
The issue came to a head when Trump said in September 2017 that NFL owners should tell protesting players, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!”
That led many more players to kneel during the anthem and turned the most popular sports league in America into a partisan talking point.
In a tweet Thursday night, Kaepernick lauded Stills and Wilson, two of the Dolphins who protested that night.
“My brother @kstills continued his protest of systemic oppression tonight by taking a knee. Albert Wilson @iThinkIsee12 joined him in protest. Stay strong brothers!” the tweet reads.