New England Patriots reflect NFL's Sunday of Solidarity

By Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 25, 2017 at 2:42 AM
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During the NFL's Sunday of Solidarity, perhaps the most poignant remarks and reactions to President Donald Trump's attack on dissident players were those by the New England Patriots.

And it goes beyond the fact that they are, after all, named the Patriots.

All of Sunday's pregame anthems included a show of solidarity by each team against harsh remarks that Trump renewed at dawn, tweeting, "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!"

On Sunday, following up on comments he made at a rally Friday, Trump tweeted, "Sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their National Anthem or their Country. NFL should change policy!"

Reaction was swift and absolute Saturday by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, who described Trump as "divisive," a word echoed by many team owners and executives.

At every game, including one at Wembley Stadium in London, players either locked arms -- some including coaches and owners -- kneeled down or went into the locker room during the anthem.

But the statement of New England owner Robert Kraft against Trump's remarks reveals the depth of outrage and rejection of Trump's remarks by those in the NFL.

Kraft is one of seven NFL owners who contributed $1 million to Trump's inaugural campaign, that despite the fact he is reportedly a Democrat. And there is that Super Bowl ring he gave Trump during the team's trip to the White House in August.

Against that background, Kraft's strong reaction is telling. And Trump received something less than reassurance from Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, who both were associated with Trump in a positive manner.

However, for insight as to the impact of what went on with the Patriots and other NFL teams, New England defensive back Devin McCourty, a veteran leader, offered a startling and clear picture, saying he and his teammates endured an emotional and difficult weekend.

Kraft's statement Sunday: "I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday. 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."

Before Sunday's game against the visiting Houston Texans, boos rang down from the Gillette Stadium crowd as both teams displayed solidarity in the wake of Trump's statements.

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. 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.

After the Patriots scored a touchdown with 23 second left to escape with a 36-33 victory over the Texans and rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson, Belichick was asked about pregame scene.

Belichick was, well, Belichick.

"Yeah, I'm just going to talk about the game," he said. "I'll deal with that later."

A follow-up question dealt with the team kneeling during the anthem.

"Yeah, I just answered that," he said.

Brady refused to make general statements about the president saying kneeling was unacceptable, but he was more conversant than Belichick.

When asked about the subject of kneeling during the anthem, Brady said: "To be honest, it's one of those things where you want to stand with your brothers, kneel with your brothers and be by their side. One statement I would just like to make is that a lot of people think we're disrespecting the flag and the military, but my father and uncle were Marines, and I have the utmost respect for the men and women that fight for our freedom.

"I feel conflicted in a sense because I have no courage to do something like (being in the military), so I understand the magnitude that they're fighting across the world for our freedom. The message we're trying to send is that we want respect and unity, and there's only so many ways that you can do it. We decided before the game that we were going to do it and I'm glad we went through with it."

McCourty, a 30-year old, ninth-year veteran, seized control of his postgame interview by bemoaning the need to address reaction to Trump after such a dramatic game, then said, "I'm just going to say how I feel, how a lot of guys felt.

"We were obviously very conflicted. We knew our message would be perceived by a lot of people in a way that wasn't what we were trying to put out. A lot of guys felt, I mean, all over the place about the comments by the President Friday night. As a leader on the team, a lot of guys came to me and they didn't know what to do. They were ... angry... we all kind of talked as a group."

Most of this meeting was in chapel and included discussion about "our faith, God comes first." But Trump's words and the perception they perpetuated deeply bothered the players.

Added McCourty: "We hate that people are going to see it as that we don't respect the military and the men and women that are way braver than us that go and put their life on the line every day for us to have the right to play football, and we know people are going to see it that way. Guys have family members, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters that serve, and they were really conflicted about it. But, we just wanted to send a message of unity and being together and not standing for the disrespect and different ways guys felt.

"I think all of us want a message that goes out of unity, being together, obviously as a team, and also as a fraternity of NFL players. Guys talk throughout the league about that, and it was great to be a part of a lot of guys trying to do the right thing.

"Obviously, it won't be seen as the right thing to everybody, but I think in our hearts, what we focus on the most was that we were trying to do the right thing today. I'm proud of our guys and I'm proud of the group and the guys I get to go out there and play football with. They're all great guys. They're better people than they are football players."

Other clubs had similar protests during the national anthem Sunday. About half of the Denver Broncos took a knee.

Denver linebacker Von Miller said, "Me and my teammates, we felt like President Trump's speech was an assault on our most cherished right, freedom of speech. Collectively we felt like we had to do something before this game. We couldn't just let things go.

"I have a huge respect for the military, our protective services and everything. I've been to Afghanistan, I've met real-life superheroes. It wasn't any disrespect to them, it was for our brothers that have been attacked for things that they do during the game, and I felt like I had to join them on it."

Trump continued tweeting about the flag Sunday afternoon, posting, "Courageous Patriots have fought and died for our great American Flag -- we MUST honor and respect it! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"

The NFL planned to respond with a 60-second ad to air during the Sunday night game between the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins.

According to CNN, the league was set to re-air a Super Bowl ad intended to "demonstrate the power of football to bring people together."

In the commercial, narrator Forest Whitaker says:

"Inside these lines, we don't have to come from the same place to help each other reach the same destination.

"Inside these lines, we may have our differences, but recognize there's more that unites us.

"Inside these lines, it's a game of inches, and there's no such thing as an easy yard when you're fighting to move forward.

"Inside these lines, we're not only defined by our victories, but by the way we handle our defeats."

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