More than 100 people staged a silent protest outside M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore before the start of Sunday’s Ravens game, standing with their fists raised, then kneeling as the national anthem played inside.
The Rev. Jamal H. Bryant and Empowerment Temple AME Church organized the demonstration. He said the goal was to kneel in solidarity with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who drew ire for refusing to stand for the anthem last year to protest the oppression of minorities in the U.S.
The Ravens and many other teams followed Kaepernick in kneeling for the anthem earlier this season, after President Donald J. Trump said any player who doesn’t stand should be fired.
But the Ravens and their opponents, the Chicago Bears, both appeared to have stood for the anthem on Sunday, a week after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to teams saying “everyone should stand for the National Anthem.”
Bryant said the reasons behind Kaepernick’s actions have become lost in the political uproar that ensued.
"Colin Kaepernick didn't take a knee for the NFL, but about police brutality,” he said. “You have to do it for Trayvon [Martin], Freddie Gray, Eric Gardner. That’s what the dialogue is about.”
Especially with football appearing to move on from the protests, Bryant said, Baltimoreans must continue to shine a light on inequalities in the treatment of minorities.
“It’s important that the argument not stay on the field,” he said. “This is not just an issue for football players but for the larger community. It’s important in this climate that the church is not silent. I want to be the moral voice and spiritual constant for the community.”
After the roughly 10-minute protest ended, Bryant told encouraged the group to fill out applications to become substitute teachers in Baltimore City Public Schools to be strong role models for students.
The protest received mixed reactions, Bryant said. Some fans knelt with the group; others turned and walked away from the stadium.
"I left today's Colts game because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem. At a time when so many Americans are inspiring our nation with their courage, resolve, and resilience, now, more than ever, we should rally around our Flag and everything that unites us," Pence said in a statement.
State troopers and Baltimore Police officers stood watch as the group staged their demonstration near the Ray Lewis statue by Gate A and the Ravenswalk.
As the group rose to their feet, Bryant led them in a prayer.
“I pray that you’ll give liberty and justice for all,” he said. “Make America great for the very first time. I pray that you will stop mass incarceration and unclog the prison pipeline. Give our young black and brown boys an opportunity to excel and do well. We stand on the shoulders of ancestors who were killed and lynched so that the next generation might have access to democracy.”
The Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.