On an NFL weekend with a lot of wild finishes - including a Broncos game with an unexpected loss - possibly the biggest story across the league was what players were doing before the game.
Would they kneel or stand?
And the answer at the Broncos-Bills game was both.
In total, 32 Broncos chose to kneel - including Brandon Marshall, Jamaal Charles and team captains Demaryius Thomas and Von Miller. Two players - Virgil Green and Shaquil Barrett - stood with a fist raised. Chris Harris Jr. kneeled with an open hand raised whle many of those standing also put a hand on the shoulder of a kneeling player beside them.
The decision - which was left to individual players, but was discussed as a team on Saturday night - came in response to President Donald Trump’s remarks at a stump rally in Alabama on Friday night. At the rally, Trump criticized players who have protested during the national anthem before games.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!” Trump said, alluding to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling last season in protest of police violence and racial injustice. Kaepernick’s former college teammate and current Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall was one of several NFL players who supported the effort and kneeled during many games last season as well.
An outcry on social media from professional players across several sports following Trump’s remarks also sparked responses from dozens of NFL teams in support of their players’ decisions on how to act and what to do during the national anthem.
The Broncos finally issued a statement from CEO Joe Ellis through Twitter on Saturday night - one of the last teams to do so.
Head coach Vance Joseph said the team talked about the situation and the league response to Trump but there was no direction by him or anyone else on what players should do.
“I spoke to the team last night about what was going on in the league and it’s their right,” Joseph said, adding that he didn’t have a reaction to the kneeling. “That wasn’t the reason that we didn’t win the football game.”
Many of the Broncos who chose to kneel did so both to show solidarity for their teammates as well as to stand up to the president’s comments.
Miller was particularly upset with Trump calling players a “son of a bitch” just for exercising a constitutional right.
“Me and my teammates, we felt like President Trump’s speech was an assault on our most cherished right, freedom of speech,” the edge rusher said after the loss to the Bills on Sunday. “Collectively, we felt like we had to do something for this game, if not any other game, if not in the past, in the future. At this moment in time, we felt like, as a team, we had to do something. We couldn’t just let things go.”
Miller added he has “a huge respect” for the military, noting his trips to Afghanistan and the “real-life heroes” he met in the process.
“It wasn’t any disrespect to them, it was for our brothers that have been attacked for things that they do during the game,” No. 58 said, “and I felt like I had to join them on it.”
Miller noted that part of his ire was Trump’s “choice of words” and for pointing out a few players while also attacking the National Football League as a whole.
“I really love playing in the National Football League. I try to keep out any politics or social issues and just try to play ball,” he said. “But I feel like it was an attack on us. If I’m not going to do anything in the future, if I haven’t done anything in the past, I feel like this was the time to do something.”
They all have the right to do this....I'm proud of my son and his teammates. pic.twitter.com/0M5j7TodvP— Barbara Marshall (@nflmom54) September 24, 2017
Marshall, who kneeled alone for eight games in the first half of the 2016 season, said his first reaction to the president’s comment Friday was “wow, just wow.”
“The fact that he would say that someone should be fired for exercising their first amendment right. It’s part of the Constitution, so why should someone be fired or taken off the field because of it?” Marshall said. “It’s utterly ridiculous.”
The linebacker who took a great deal of grief from critics last season over his decision to kneel - and continues to get negative feedback on social media - said he and his teammates talked specifically about the difference in the president’s references to white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville versus protesting players in the NFL.
“We talked about the fact that while he called the people of Charlottesville ‘very fine people,’ but we are ‘sons of bitches,’” Marshall said. “I think that he has to know that what he said is not going to make people go that way, it’s going to provoke people to bail, so to speak.”
While almost all those kneeling were African-American players, one white player also chose to take a knee - Aussie Adam Gotsis.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, man,” the defensive end told BSN Denver in an exclusive interview. “I’m doing it for freedom of speech. If anyone wants to exercise their freedom through their actions, it shouldn’t matter. They’re standing up for something that they believe in. I love my brothers. I believe in what they believe in.”
Emmanuel Sanders, who acknowledged defending Trump to friends and family previously, decided that the president’s actions Friday night were too much not to stand against.
“We decided to take a knee. It didn’t have anything to do with what the flag meant to me, it had absolutely nothing to do with that,” the wide receiver said after the game. “It’s the fact that our president is sitting up there saying words that he shouldn’t be using and calling guys words that he shouldn’t be using because you’re the leader of the United States, that’s just not right. I decided to take a knee on that … He shouldn’t be treating guys like that if you’re standing up for a cause that they believe in.”
Jamaal Charles, a veteran running back new to the Broncos this season, chose to kneel in part to show unity and support for his new teammates.
“It was just all of us getting together and me supporting my teammates and that’s what we did,” he said, noting that some players wanted to kneel and some didn’t. “At the end of the day, people have their own rights to do what they want to do. I did it because I support my teammates. I know we live in an America where you have free rights to believe what you believe, and I try to support my teammates and that’s why I did it.”
Demaryius Thomas said it wasn’t even much of a discussion but rather just a choice of whether to do it.
“It was just something we did as a group because these guys are my brothers,” the offensive team captain said.
Trevor Siemian did not take a knee but he defended his teammates who did.
“I support those guys 110 percent,” Siemian said. “They know that I have their back. They have every right to do what they’re doing. I support those guys. I’ve said before, it’s a special group and so many of those guys are positive agents of change in the community and you see them everywhere. It is an honor to be their teammate.”