On Thursday, Sept. 28, the NFL resumes a second round of play since President Donald Trump engaged in back-and-forth between himself and the league over player protests during the national anthem. During the first round of games after the president levied his attacks, both players and team personnel, including some owners, engaged in an array demonstrations. With another game to come on Thursday Night Football -- involving one of the leagues's most popular teams, the Green Bay Packers -- the answer to one question seems unclear: Are the Packers protesting during the national anthem?
According to a team statement released on Tuesday night, the Packers plan to lock arms during the national anthem before their game against the Chicago Bears, to continue a show of unity. Green Bay's statement read, per ESPN,
Those of us joining arms on Thursday will be different in so many ways, but one thing that binds us together is that we are all individuals who want to help make our society, our country and our world a better place. We believe that in diversity there can be UNI-versity. Intertwined, we represent the many people who helped build this country, and we are joining together to show that we are ready to continue to build. Let's work together to build a society that is more fair and just.
The statement also pointed out that the demonstration will show that the team's personnel all want "freedom, equality, tolerance, understanding and justice for those who have been unjustly treated, discriminated against or otherwise treated unfairly."
The statement points to more of the same from Green Bay, which locked arms before its game against the Cincinnati Bengals this past Sunday, two days after President Trump criticized the NFL during a rally in Alabama.
Only three players did not lock arms, opting instead to sit down during the anthem. One of the three was tight end Martellus Bennett, the brother of Seattle Seahawks player Michael Bennett. Both Bennett brothers are known to demonstration during the national anthem, either by sitting it out altogether or raising a fist. On Thursday night, however, Martellus Bennett is likely to join in the locking of arms with the rest of his Packers teammates, ESPN reports.
During a press conference, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers stressed that the demonstration was not a protest, telling reporters,
This is about equality. This is about unity and love and growing together as a society and starting a conversation around something that may be a little bit uncomfortable for people. But we've got to come together and talk about these things and grow as a community, as a connected group of individuals in our society, and we're going to continue to show love and unity, and this week we're going to ask the fans to join in as well and come together and show people that we can be connected and we can grow together.
The subject of protests in the NFL has proven itself to be a polarizing one since Colin Kaepernick became the first player to draw major attention by sitting during the national anthem. Kaepernick would eventually shift to kneeling during the national anthem, a gesture which he says was to show respect for military personnel. All the while, the quarterback maintained that he was not standing for the national anthem because of the "oppression" faced by people of color.
I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.
After becoming a free agent during the offseason, Kaepernick was not signed by any team, with some players, including Rodgers, opining that the player was effectively blackballed because of his protests. Meanwhile, players around the league continue to demonstrate, including Packers players this Thursday night.