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
Based on dramatic reactions in the National Football League, especially during Sunday's pregame ceremonies, it appears that President Donald Trump managed to do what Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith could not -- bring together league officials, team owners and players.
This began Friday when Trump said, "If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!"
In response, most league and team owners or executives, along with numerous players, condemned Trump's remarks with official statements or through social media. Many, including Goodell and Smith, described Trump's remarks as "divisive."
But in an ironic twist, Trump's remarks instigated a show of single-minded agreement rarely seen in the NFL.
Sunday dawned with Trump reinforcing his strong stand. However, as Sunday's games began, starting in London, where the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars played (kickoff 6: 30 a.m. ET), the NFL countered with definite and defiant gestures of unity.
Players and other team officials in all 10 early Sunday games demonstrated their solidarity against Trump's remarks in various, but obvious, actions. Many players in every game stood but with arms locked in a show of unity. Several owners stood and locked arms with their players. The Steelers opted to leave the field during the anthem.
At 5:44 ET, Trump tweeted: "If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!"
Trump said in a second tweet a short time later that players kneeling during the anthem is hurting the league.
"NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S."
Perhaps the most telling reactions early Sunday were by team owners Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and Shad Khan of the Jaguars.
Their reactions against Trump are remarkable because they are two of seven NFL owners who had a hand in contributing $1 million each to Trump's inaugural campaign.
Others were Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins, Bob McNair of the Houston Texans, Woody Johnson of the New York Jets, Stan Kroenke of the Los Angeles Rams and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, whose contribution was technically through the Glenstone Corporation.
Khan was on the sidelines in London and locked arms with players. It is first time this season an NFL owner has participated in a protest during the anthem.
Kraft issued a statement before the game.
"I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday," Kraft said. "I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger. There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics.
"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."
Goodell, whose regime is probably best known for actions against players, began the attack on Trump Saturday
Goodell: "The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we've experienced over the last month.
"Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities."
That prompted a testy response from Trump.
"Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country. Tell them to stand!"
Here is a look at responses by team owners and notable reaction at Sunday's games.
Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars, Wembley Stadium (London).
Multiple players for both teams took a knee during the anthem. Jaguars owner Shad Khan was also on the sideline and locked arms with players.
Ravens players taking a knee included starters Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Za'Darius Smith, Mike Wallace, Tony Jefferson, Anthony Levine and Lardarius Webb.
Jaguars players taking a knee were Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler.
"We recognize our players' influence," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said in a statement. "We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent. All voices need to be heard. That's democracy in its highest form."
Denver Broncos at Buffalo Bills, New Era Field.
Several players from both the Bills and Broncos demonstrated during the national anthem. Fans booed loudly while the Bills walked onto the field together for the anthem and locked arms.
Buffalo's star running back LeSean McCoy, who criticized President Trump in a tweet on Saturday, sat on the turf and stretched during the anthem performance. Lorenzo Alexander, Marcell Dareus, Mike Tolbert, Shareece Wright, Jordan Matthews and Ryan Davis kneeled for the first time this season.
Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly raised his left fist. After the anthem finished, Kelly sought out Dareus, who is inactive for today's game, and had a brief conversation that ended with a hug.
On Saturday, Buffalo Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula issued this statement:
"Several of us met tonight -- players, coaches, staff and ownership. Our goal was to provide open dialogue and communication. We listened to one another and believe it's the best way to work through what we are facing -- on and off the field.
"President Trump's remarks were divisive and disrespectful to the entire NFL community, but we tried to use them as an opportunity to further unify our team and our organization. Our players have the freedom to express themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner and we all agreed that our sole message is to provide and to promote an environment that is focused on love and equality."
More than half of the players and coaches on the Broncos sideline kneeled.
On Saturday Denver Broncos president/CEO Joe Ellis issued this statement:
"Our players have shown a tremendous commitment to raising awareness for important societal issues by using their platform in a positive way. In addition to their hard work off the field, we have great admiration for their dedication to making our team the absolute best it can be. They've made incredible sacrifices to reach this level, and we recognize they give their all to our team and fans each and every day. As an organization, we could not be more proud, appreciative and grateful for our players. We'll continue to support them and work together to advocate for values of respect, diversity and inclusion."
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers, Bank of America Stadium.
Nine Saints took seats on the bench beyond the sideline during the national anthem. At least a couple of the seated Saints players appeared to have a hand placed over their hearts.
Before Sunday's game, no Panthers took part in pre-game protests. There were no Carolina players seen sitting or kneeling during the pregame anthem Sunday. However, veteran defensive end Julius Peppers wasn't on the sideline during the anthem and then was on the sideline once the game began.
After the game began, the Saints released this statement:
"Our organization takes great pride in equality and inclusion and find the comments by the President disappointing and inappropriate relative to our players on this issue. Tom Benson served in the military and continues to this day to support all military branches and feels strongly that we honor those men and women who defend our freedoms and our freedom of speech. He also believes that the very players that represent the Saints and Pelicans organizations should be allowed to share or express their feelings. We prefer to take this moment in time and work together, all of us, to stop the divisiveness. Our players and our organization serve the New Orleans community selflessly and do so without care of race, creed or sexual orientation and that makes us a better city and a better team. We believe strongly in honoring our flag and the national anthem and what it represents and we support our players. We all must strive to show that we are all Americans and continue to work towards equality for all. The NFL and NBA, perhaps more than any sports, have the power to bring communities together."
Pittsburgh Steelers at Chicago Bears, Soldier Field.
The Steelers remained in their locker room during the national anthem prior to their game against the Bears.
The Steelers took the field immediately after the conclusion of the singing of the national anthem and arrived to heavy boos from the crowd. The Bears stood on the sideline with their arms locked.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told CBS Sports that the choice to keep his team off the field during the anthem was not to be disrespectful. He said the decision was made to "remove ourselves from the circumstance" because people shouldn't have to choose.
Tomlin was on the Pittsburgh sideline for the anthem along with offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
"These are very divisive times for our country," Tomlin said in the interview with CBS prior to Sunday's game. "For us as a football team, it's about remaining solid."
In a statement, Bears chairman George McCaskey said the franchise is proud to "support our players, coaches and all members of our organization to bring peace and unity together through football."
McCaskey continued, "What makes this the greatest country in the world are our liberties it was founded upon and the freedom to express oneself in a respectful and peaceful manner. Through important dialogue with our players and team, this divisive political situation has unified our franchise for the present and the future."
Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions, Ford Field
Several Lions and Falcons players took a knee during the playing of the national anthem.
The eight kneeling Lions players included defensive linemen Cornelius Washington, A'Shawn Robinson, Akeem Spence; offensive lineman Jeremiah Ledbetter, linebackers Tahir Whitehead, Steve Longa and Jalen Reeves-Maybin; and running back Ameer Abdullah.
Many other Lions players locked arms in protest.
A pair of Falcons defensive linemen, Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe, also knelt during the national anthem while many of their other players stood with the arms locked together in unity.
Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford, who took the unusual step of standing at midfield for the anthem, issued a statement on Sunday morning denouncing Trump's statements.
"Negative and disrespectful comments suggesting otherwise are contrary to the founding principles of our country, and we do not support those comments or opinions," the statement read in part.
Team president Ron Wood said to the media prior to the game it was important to show support for the team's players.
"It's unfortunate that we're talking about that and not football today," Wood said. "We put a statement out. I know our players, they're great guys, great members of the community and have a great work ethic every day. Just wanted to get something out to support them."
Falcons owner Arthur Blank criticized Trump's comments in a statement Saturday. In part, is said: "Creating division or demonizing viewpoints that are different than our own accomplishes nothing positive and undermines our collective ability to achieve the ideals of our democracy."
Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis Colts, Lucas Oil Stadium.
Some Browns players knelt while others stood with locked arms. While no Colts could be seen kneeling, most locked arms.
The player display was met by a chorus of boos from the stands. Widely known as a Republican state -- Vice President Mike Pence is Indiana's former governor -- the fan reaction was not surprising.
On Friday, Colts owner Jim Irsay issued a strong statement condemning Trump's statements.
Irsay: "I am troubled by the President's recent comments about our league and our players. Sports in America have the unique ability to bring people from all walks of life and from different points of view together to work toward or root for a common goal, and the Indianapolis Colts are proud to be a part of that tradition in our home city and state. The vast majority of players in the NFL -- especially those who have work and continue to wear the Horseshoe -- have donated millions of dollars to charities, raised money for those affected by recent hurricanes, created charitable foundations, visited schools, mentored students, worked in homeless shelters, cleaned up parks, and put in hours of their personal time toward improving their communities and the lives of those around them. That's the spirit in which this nation was founded, and we all need to work tirelessly to bring people together to take on the challenges that face us and give back to the people of our communities. More so than any result on the field, that is a common goal worth rooting for."
In previous games, the Browns stood arm-in-arm during the anthem and ran out of the tunnel with police, firefighters and military personnel and locked arms with them during at team's opener against Pittsburgh.
In August, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill criticized a group of Cleveland Browns players who protested during the national anthem at an NFL preseason game, calling them "draft dodging millionaire athletes."
"I will NEVER attend a sporting event where the draft dodging millionaire athletes disrespect the veterans who earned them the right to be on that field," O'Neill said in a Tuesday Facebook post.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings, U. S. Bank Stadium.
Bucs receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson kneeled with hands on their heart for the anthem, a few steps behind their teammates who locked arms in unity.
The Vikings stood on their sideline with their arms locked. The demonstration was quiet and understated from the two teams meeting in Minnesota.
Shortly before the game, Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf released their own statement from the team.
"Professional sports offer a platform unlike any other, a platform that can bring people from a variety of backgrounds together to impact positive change in our society," the statement read. "As owners, it is our job to foster an environment that recognizes and appreciates diversity of thought and encourages using this platform in a constructive manner. Rather than make divisive statements, we believe in promoting thoughtful, inspiring conversation that unifies our communities. We are proud of our players, coaches and staff for the important role they play in our community, and we fully support their constitutional right to respectfully and peacefully express their beliefs."
Houston Texans at New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium.
Boos rang down from the Gillette Stadium crowd both before and after the national anthem as both teams protested President Trump's comments.
The Texans stood arm in arm.
For the Patriots, one group of 16 -- all African-American -- kneeled and two other groups stood arm-in-arm.
Quarterback 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 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 (see earlier in story).
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets, MetLife Stadium.
Both the Dolphins and the Jets, save five Miami players, stood locking arms for the singing of the national anthem by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.
Dolphins left tackle Laremy Tunsil, safety Maurice Smith, tight end Julius Thomas and wide receiver Kenny Stills all knelt, with wide receiver Jarvis Landry standing between them.
Jets owner Christopher Johnson locked arms with quarterback Josh McCown and rookie safety Jamal Adams. General manager Mike Maccagnan also stood among the Jets.
Johnson issued a statement, which read: "It was an honor and a privilege to stand arm-in-arm unified with our players during today's national anthem. We are very proud of our players and their strong commitment to work in our community to make a positive, constructive, and unifying impact."
On Saturday, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who stood on the field in the middle of his players, issued a statement condemning President Trump's statements:
"Our country needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness. We need to seek to understand each other and have civil discourse instead of condemnation and sound bites. I know our players who kneeled for the anthem and these are smart young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone. They wanted to start a conversation and are making a difference in our community, including working with law enforcement to bring people together. We all can benefit from learning, listening and respecting each other. Sports is a common denominator in our world. We all have the responsibility to use this platform to promote understanding, respect and equality."
Several Miami players, including Miami running back Jay Ajayi, wore black t-shirts during pregame warmups saying "#IMWITHKAP" in solidarity with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was the first player to kneel during the national anthem and is currently a free agent.
New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field.
Eagles and Giants players locked arms on their sidelines during the national anthem before Sunday's game.
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and wide receiver Torrey Smith raised their fists in the air.
Three members of the Giants -- safety Landon Collins, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and defensive end Olivier Vernon -- kneeled during the anthem.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who stood locking arms with linebacker Brandon Graham, issued a statement Saturday night in response to Trump's comments.
"The best of us lend our compassion and determination to the aid of others," Lurie said. "Every day, I see the genuine dedication and hard work of our players. And I support them as they take their courage, character and commitment into our communities to make them better or to call attention to injustice. Having spoken with our players, I can attest to the great respect they have for our national anthem and all it represents. We at the Philadelphia Eagles firmly believe that in this difficult time of division and conflict, it is more important than ever for football to be a great unifier."
Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch issued a combined statement Saturday.
"Comments like we heard last night from the president are inappropriate, offensive and divisive," Mara and Tisch said in a statement. "We are proud of our players, the vast majority of whom use their NFL platform to make a positive difference in our society."
--Correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed reports from the site of each game.