Baltimore mayor says she backs NFL players' right to protest but won't comment on protests themselves

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh says she supports NFL players' right to protest but declined to comment on whether she supported the message of the protests.

"I stand with the teams and I stand with the owners," Pugh said Wednesday. "I just think that people should have freedom of speech."


But asked whether she agreed with the protests, Pugh had nothing to add.

They started with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first sitting and then kneeling during the performance of the national anthem at the beginning of games to protest police officers shooting black people. They escalated this weekend after he was denounced by President Donald Trump.

Some Ravens players took a knee during the national anthem at Wembley Stadium in London Sunday, the first in a series of protests across the NFL.

"I haven't listened to everybody, I just believe in freedom of speech," the mayor said.

Pugh later said she had no comment on a petition to remove a statue of retired Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who joined team members' protest in London.

The high-profile protests have roiled the country, drawing continued attention from Trump, who says the players' actions disrespect the flag and the military, and prompting some fans to disown the Ravens.

Last season, few players joined Kaepernick in dropping to one knee during the anthem, but after Trump attacked the protesters, hundreds joined in. Many other players and team officials linked arms in solidarity during the weekend's games.

Joey Odoms, the combat veteran who sings the anthem at Ravens home games, quit the job amid fan reaction to the protests.

"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 in an Instagram post.