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Elway on anthem protests: It’s your right, just don’t let it detract from team goal

Speaking on the issue of anthem protests, John Elway lends support for players’ free choice and commends Brandon Marshall’s efforts last season.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

When Marshawn Lynch decided to sit during the National Anthem last week, he reignited last season’s fiery debate over players protesting injustice in America by not standing for the patriotic hymn.

In his first public statements on the issue, Broncos GM John Elway was very clear where he stands - it’s your choice, but don’t let it detract from the team goal of winning the game.

“I think everybody has the right to do what they wish to do, and their beliefs are their beliefs,” Elway said Thursday, adding that’s “why we live in this country.” “We’ll respect that and whatever you want to do is fine with us. But the bottom line is, that can’t get in the way of our main goal and that is to compete for World Championships.”

As the Broncos descended upon the Bay Area this week for joint practices with the 49ers - where the protests began a year ago by former Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick - the issue was once again a hot topic.

But Elway and his Niners counterpart John Lynch quelled any hot takes by giving sincere responses about the impact players like Kaep, Marshawn Lynch and Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall have when they take a public stand.

“The only thing I would say to our players is make sure it’s not hurting your teammates, right?” Elway said, adding it can detract from weekly preparation. “That’s not the best thing for our football team. ...We tell our players, ‘I respect where you stand, ... just understand what it’s doing to the football team because I want all of these guys to understand that we’re football first and we want to win football games. If we do that, everything’s going to be fine.”

The new Niners GM believes the gesture is “divisive,” but he stopped short of condemning it.

“You strive for a common goal, and you have unity. And I think this game brings people together. So I think personally when I see that, I think that's divisive,” he said of the protests. “And I understand guys see things and they're not happy. They have that right. And I think we'll always respect people's rights. That doesn't mean I believe that. I believe this game should be celebrated for what it is - I think, a tremendous unifier for our country, and for the way things should be.”

Niners coach Kyle Shanahan, who hasn’t talked to the team about whether any players will protest this season, said he understands the decision as well.

“I see stuff on TV also and things that are going on in this country and this world. I think anybody who sees that stuff and doesn’t get a feeling like they’d like to do something about it to end that stuff, I think something is wrong with you,” Shanahan said. “I understand why guys want to say something and speak up. There’s lots of different ways to do it.”

When Marshall chose to kneel for the anthem last season, the Broncos front office was supportive, even if not all in agreement. The protest was highly controversial among fans in Denver as well as across the NFL where players on more than a dozen teams chose some form of protest during the anthem for at least one game.

Elway on Thursday reiterated the franchise’s appreciation for how Marshall handled it and its pride for how he tried to make a difference in the community too.

“Brandon made a point last year, but he carried it forward,” Elway said, noting that Marshall met with local police and different groups to talk through the issues. “He just didn’t make a stand on the field before the games, he actually went out in the community and did something and talked to different people.

“I was proud of Brandon in not only did he show his support for what it was last year,” Elway said, “but also he went out and did something in the community.”


How did you feel about the anthem protests last season?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    I liked it; it was a quiet but powerful way to make a statement.
    (131 votes)
  • 40%
    I didn’t like it; it was disrespectful.
    (162 votes)
  • 26%
    I didn’t care; I just wanted to win more games.
    (107 votes)
400 votes total Vote Now