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Elway, Joseph: ‘Time to get back to football’

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It’s been a week of exhausting questions about non-football things. But the Broncos host the Raiders in two days at Mile High, so it’s time to talk about that - if we can.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to “get back to football.”

That was the message from Vance Joseph to his team this week, and it’s the message he tried to tell the media yesterday.

Of 20 questions posed to the head coach during his post-practice presser Thursday, 17 had to do with anthem protests.

That probably wasn’t what the coach was hoping to talk about as the 2-1 Broncos get ready to host the 2-1 Raiders on Sunday in a game that could already have huge implications for later in the season.

No such luck.

“Anything that we’re talking about that doesn’t concern us winning the football game, we don’t want to talk about it,” Joseph told reporters. “That’s been our rule for our football team since I’ve been here. If it helps us win, let’s talk about it. If it doesn’t, let’s not talk about it. That wasn’t helping us win football games. So absolutely, I’m happy it’s behind us.”

But the issue isn’t exactly “behind us” as the nation continues to whip itself into a frenzy over something that has generally been framed around a false narrative - that players are protesting the military by kneeling during the anthem.

*OK, time out for station identification (and to make sure Broncos fans are the smartest people in the room):

Protesting the military was never the intent behind the protest.

Not last week. And certainly not last year.

Whatever your view on the public platform last season that Colin Kaepernick, Brandon Marshall and other players used to send a message to the country that the America they know is not living up to its promise of equality and justice for all, you simply cannot assume they are “against the military” because they knelt during the anthem.

That was never stated in their words nor even in their actions of kneeling - and if you say that, you are not understanding what the anthem and the flag represent.

Bob Costas said it the best this week when he pointed out that the anthem and the flag are used to symbolize patriotism. But patriotism is not exclusive to the military; that’s just one of the most obvious and most rewarding examples. But patriots are also teachers and social workers and dissidents, etc., he argued.

So kneeling during a song that is about this country gaining its freedom is to demonstrate discontent with America not living up to its ideals. It is not to disparage soldiers or the military. It’s fine to be offended by that action, but it’s important to know what the action is actually protesting.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming...

So for that primary reason - the confusion by fans over the intent behind the protest - the Broncos players decided in a team meeting via majority vote that they will stand during the national anthem on Sunday afternoon.

“The players felt [that] obviously it started with good intentions, but it’s been so negative,” Joseph said. “With the environment that we’re in right now, no one’s going to make any change. If it’s positive or it’s negative, nothing’s going to get done.”

Joseph added that he hope to get back to some “normality in the NFL.”

“We thought as a team, let’s get back to playing football, get back to standing for the anthem and let’s get back to normality in the NFL,” he said. “Then we can probably make some change down the line, but it’s been so toxic.”

Chris Harris Jr. noted that not every player was in favor of standing but the players’ leadership team made the decision that standing together was the right play on this down.

“It’s the majority. It’s a vote. You can’t have your way every time,” Harris Jr. said. “...We all went with it, so everybody stands.”

Von Miller, one of the leadership council members, highlighted the fact that standing Sunday is in no way an apology for last week. It’s just a different statement this week.

“We felt like that was the best direction to go,” he said.

Moving forward is certainly what John Elway expressed in a statement released via Twitter on Tuesday.

Highlighting that he personally believes in standing for the national anthem, Elway acknowledged that the players felt compelled to take action in response to comments from President Donald Trump a week ago asking NFL owners to “fire” players who kneel in protest.

“Hopefully as we go forward, we can start concentrating on football a little bit more, take the politics out of football,” Elway said. “But I think last week was a good show of unity by the NFL and hopefully this week we can move forward.”

Derek Wolfe, one of the Broncos who did not kneel last weekend, said the entire issue has not been divisive in the locker room despite varying opinions.

Oh, and Wolfe had one more thing to say.

“It’s a passionate issue for everybody,” he said. “We’re trying to play football, and that’s all that matters. On Sundays, football’s what matters.”