Numerous New England Patriots players take a knee during the playing of the national anthem prior to the game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on September 24, 2017. Photo by Matthew Healey/ UPI | License Photo
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Boos rang down from the Gillette Stadium crowd both before and after the national anthem as both teams showed their support of free speech prior to Sunday's game between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots.
The show of unity was in reaction to President Donald Trump's strong words condemning athletes exercising their free speech rights by protesting the anthem.
As the Texans stood arm in arm as one unit on one sideline, 16 members -- all African-American -- of the Patriots kneeled and two other groups stood arm in arm on the New England sideline.
Tom Brady had his right hand on his heart and left hand holding a football -- but his left arm locked with wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, who is black.
The crowd booed rather mildly before the song and then loudly afterward, with some in the crowd heard yelling "Stand up."
Earlier, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who presented a championship ring to Trump, his friend, issued a statement showing his lack of support for what the president said.
"I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the president's comments on Friday," Kraft said in a statement posted on the Patriots' Twitter account.
"I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal.
"Our players are intelligent, thoughtful, and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful."
Tom Brady took to Instagram with the words: "Strength. Passion. Love. Brotherhood. Team. Unity. Commitment. Dedication. Determination. Respect. Loyalty. Work. #nflplayer."
Teammate Nate Solder tweeted: "stand or kneel, that's a free choice, you won't see any division in this locker room over that, we respect each other too much."
Texans owner Bob McNair, who donated $1 million to the Trump campaign, issued a statement also condemning the president's words.
"The NFL specifically, and football in general, has always unified our communities and families," he said. "The comments made by the President were divisive and counterproductive to what our country needs right now. I hope the reaction from our players results in positive action for our league, our communities and our country as a whole to make a positive difference in our society.
"Texans players are caring, intelligent men who do so much good, as was shown in the past month when our city was devastated by Hurricane Harvey. I have never been more proud of our players and our team than during this time. It was a display of what is truly possible when we all work together. We will continue to support our players to work together to promote the values of respect and unity."