The NFL said on Friday it will commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States during games on Sunday, the same day when some players plan to protest during the U.S. national anthem.
Four players have so far opted to kneel during the anthem in a protest against social injustice, a controversial gesture that started during the preseason and one that many consider to be a sign of disrespect to the American flag.
San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protests when he refused to stand for "The Star-Spangled Banner" and others have followed suit, most recently Denver linebacker Brandon Marshall ahead of Thursday's season opener.
The day after Marshall kneeled during the national anthem, a local Colorado sponsor, Air Academy Federal Credit Union posted on Facebook that it had dropped him.
Air Academy Federal Credit Union
Although we have enjoyed Brandon Marshall as our spokesperson over the past five months, Air Academy Federal Credit Union (AAFCU) has ended our partnership. AAFCU is a membership-based organization who has proudly served the military community for over 60 years. While we respect Brandon’s right of expression, his actions are not a representation of our organization and membership. We wish Brandon well on his future endeavors.
Air Academy Federal Credit Union
“I’m not against the military,” Marshall said after Thursday night's game. “I’m not against the police or America. I’m just against social injustice.”
The protests look set to continue, even on a day when the NFL recognizes the anniversary of the worst attack on American soil since Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.
The use of force by police against African-Americans in cities such as Baltimore, New York, and Ferguson, Missouri, has sparked periodic and sometimes destructive protests in the past two years, and has prompted the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Seattle's receiver Doug Baldwin said this week he is considering sitting during the anthem ahead of Sunday's home game while team mate Bobby Wagner said the Seahawks have been talking about a group action. Members of the Miami Dolphins have also talked about a possible team protest.
Baldwin said his team would demonstrate regardless of the date, but thinks it will add even more substance to their actions.
“Even if it wasn’t September 11th, the point of the protest is to get people to think,” he told reporters according to ESPN. “It’s very ironic to me that 15 years ago, on September 11th, was one of the most devastating times in U.S. history, and after that day we were probably the most unified that we’ve ever been.
“And today you struggle to see the unity. It’s very ironic to me that this date is coming up. It’s going to be a very special day, a very significant day, but at the same time I’m looking forward to the many changes and differences that we can make in this country.”
According to the National Football League, fans across the country will see video messages from President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush prior to each of Sunday's 13 games on the first full day of action in the 2016 season.
First responders, community volunteers and members of the military will also be on the field for pregame activities and the playing of the national anthem, the league said in a statement.
A 9/11 decal will be placed on players' helmets while all team coaching staffs will be supplied with 9/11 lapel pins.
One of Kaepernick's preseason anthem protests coincided with "Salute the Military Night," which saw 240 sailors, Marines and soldiers present a U.S. flag and a pre-game parachute jump by retired Navy SEALS ahead of a game in San Diego.
Kaepernick, who has said his protest is not aimed at the military, applauded from the sidelines during a second-quarter salute to military members.
There are also some who take a different view, seeing the quarterback’s actions as quintessentially Millennial in their manner of patriotism, as the Christian Science Monitor’s Ben Rosen reported earlier this week:
Ever since Mr. Kaepernick began to commit this taboo form of protest Friday, some athletes, fans, and columnists have said the 28-year-old is unpatriotic. But Kaepernick's protest may show a different type of patriotism, one that has become more popular among Millennials than many that came before them: loving your country enough to question it.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)