Extra security has been added near the statue of retired Ravens star Ray Lewis at M&T Bank Stadium after he joined current players Sunday in kneeling during the national anthem, provoking calls to remove the likeness.
As of mid-afternoon Wednesday, more than 36,000 people had signed an online petition on change.org that advocates for the removal of the Lewis statue “because of his refusal to stand during the National Anthem.
“That song honors our country and our veterans who fought for it,” the petition reads. “To kneel during it is disrespectful, regardless of what you are protesting.”
Given recent statue-related protests and vandalism, the Maryland Stadium Authority didn't wait until this Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers to take precautions.
“There is additional security at the statue plaza at this time," said Rachelina Bonacci, a spokesperson for the authority, which is the team’s stadium landlord.
“Certainly observers can notice the presence of uniformed security officers at M&T Bank Stadium, which includes the statue plaza,” she said. “The additional officers and other security enhancements have been in place since Sunday afternoon.”
On Sunday, Lewis — who retired from the NFL after the 2012 season — knelt on both knees alongside a group of current Ravens as the anthem was played before the team’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London.
Many other NFL players took a knee during the national anthem in response to President Donald Trump's comments Friday that called for owners to fire players if they didn't stand for the anthem. Some teams didn’t emerge from their locker rooms.
Lewis said he was praying.
“I dropped on two knees — both knees — so I can simply honor God in the midst of chaos,” he said on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL.”
The Ravens declined to comment on the petition. Team spokesman Kevin Byrne referred a reporter Wednesday to earlier comments in which he said the team was “hearing a variety of opinions — some showing disappointment with the players who demonstrated and others showing support.”
The Lewis statue — depicting the dance the player made famous as he entered the field — was unveiled in 2014.
Earlier, Lewis had advised Colin Kaepernick — the first NFL player to kneel in protest over racial inequality and police brutality — to return to the sport, saying: “Let your play speak for itself.” The quarterback became a free agent this offseason but has not been picked up by a team.