BALTIMORE- Over the past two weeks, the Baltimore Ravens have received lots of criticism from fans and some public officials for kneeling during the national anthem before the Sept. 24th game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and kneeling and praying before the anthem ahead of Sunday’s kickoff against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“They need to keep it out of the workplace,” Hartford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said in an interview with Capital News Service. “I would be the first one to support their right to protest outside of football, they just need to protect their brand of playing good football.”
But Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott thinks the football field is the perfect place to protest inequalities and injustices people of color are facing across the country.
“Don’t be tricked: this is about race, the thing we don’t like to talk about,” Scott said.
In the city where Francis Scott Key penned “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the NFL players’ show of protest, as in other cities, has roiled fans who agree with President Donald Trump that teams are disrespecting the anthem, the flag and the military. On the other side, players and their defenders insist their protests mean no disrespect but rather are being misinterpreted: the main point is to show support for social justice, to underscore concerns about police brutality, and to reaffirm the right to free expression despite criticism from the White House.
Ten Baltimore Ravens, including linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley, along with wide receiver Mike Wallace, took a knee and head coach John Harbaugh locked arms with the rest of his team before their game against Jacksonville in London. Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis also joined the team in taking a knee before the game.
Before Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh, the entire Ravens team knelt before the anthem to pray, but stood for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Their prayer was met with boos booming throughout the stadium and some fans even left after seeing players kneel.
Only 52 players nationwide took a knee during the anthem before last Sunday’s games, a substantial drop from almost 200 players kneeling the previous week.
Trump called for NFL team owners to fire the players that wouldn’t stand for the anthem.
Ravens tight end Ben Watson took to Twitter the day before the Jacksonville game to respond to Trump’s comments.
“It is a sad day when the POTUS seeks to disregard and punish American citizens for peacefully exercising their constitutional rights,” Watson tweeted.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti released a statement saying he supported his players “100 percent.”
“I think that’s a good thing (that) it’s getting talked about,” Harbaugh said after the London game. “I think it’s something that’s a positive. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be painful. It’s a tough conversation, but as for us here, I love our players and I support our players. A team is about unity.”
The controversy was sparked more than a year ago when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., responded to the recent protests by tweeting: “Democracy. Freedom of speech. Freedom of expression. The power of ‘We the People’ wanting to encourage a more perfect union.”
Some Ravens season ticket holders have even cancelled their season tickets.
George Reda, whose season seats went back to the days of the Baltimore Colts, wrote to Bisciotti that “I know we all have the right in this great country to dissent and disagree with things that we don’t agree with, but the football field is not the proper place.”
Reda added he didn’t even watch Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh and took his Ravens sticker off his car.
Joey Odoms, the Ravens’ singer for the national anthem, resigned after the the Jaguars game – not because the team knelt but, he said, because of the hatred and disapproval sown to the team by the fans after the protest.
Odoms, a former combat veteran, released a statement on Facebook explaining his decision to resign.
“Fans who attack players for protesting, (a right in which I fought to defend) but are simply not interested in understanding why, is the reason I am resigning,” Odoms said.
Gahler aired his displeasure at the kneeling on his Facebook page.
“The embarrassment that is the NFL continues and people wonder why I am on strike” against the league games, Gahler said. “Ravens join the nonsense of taking knee while on the soil of the Country we gained our independence from.”
Gahler told CNS that when players are in uniform they constitute a team, not individuals.
“You have a First Amendment right outside your job but the NFL is endorsing it by allowing the disrespect of our flag,” Gahler said.
No matter how the public perceives the Ravens stance, protesting players are not backing down.
“We stand with our brothers. They have the right to protest and we knelt with them,” Suggs said. “Non-violent protest is as American as it gets. We knelt with them to let them know we’re a unified front. There is no dividing us.”