Kenny Stills knew he’d be continuing his anthem protest in an attempt to create awareness for social justice and racial equality, but the Miami Dolphins receiver didn’t know he’d have company.
Albert Wilson, a newcomer to the team, joined Stills in his third year of this protests, kneeling with him during the playing of the national anthem before Thursday night’s 26-24 preseason loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The two receivers hadn’t talked about their anthem plans before hand, but there they were hugging each other when it was over.
“Being a part of this protest hasn’t been easy. I thought I’d be doing it by myself and today I had an angel out there,” said Stills after the game.
Defensive end Robert Quinn stood and raised his right fist during the anthem, as he did last season with the Los Angeles Rams, and Quinn said he’ll continue doing so all season.
“It’s a free country and I’m just holding my fist up for unity,” said Quinn, who the Dolphins traded for this offseason. “This is about creating awareness. I’ve been doing this for a long time now. … This isn’t a responsibility. It’s something I’m passionate about.”
Quinn said he’ll continue to raise his fist during the anthem until “there’s heaven on earth” and the world shares more “peace, love and happiness.”
The Dolphins are one of two NFL teams that have had players protesting for social justice during the national anthem the past two seasons. Stills began his protest in the 2016 season opener.
The NFL has put its three-month-old national anthem policy on pause while the league and the player’s union work to find a resolution to a grievance filed in court last month about the new policy forcing players to stand for the anthem.
The decision came a day after a nine-page disciplinary document submitted to the NFL by the Dolphins included a section called “Proper Anthem Conduct,” cited fines or suspension as a possible punishment for players who knelt during the anthem.
Dolphins owner Steve Ross labeled the punishment policy submitted to the league as a “placeholder,” until the NFL clarifies its rules, and team officials talk to the players.
The Dolphins said they did not create a team policy regarding anthem protests heading into Thursday night’s game, and coach Adam Gase had said he wouldn’t address anthem protests with the team.
“I’m not instructing anybody to do anything,” Gase said on Tuesday.
When asked what happens if the Dolphins have a protesting player on the field, an annoyed Gase quickly instructed the media to “talk to someone else,” possibly referring to management or Ross.
“I’m coaching football,” Gase said. “I’m not dealing with this.”
Wilson says he joined the protest because he felt the Dolphins organization gave him the freedom to. And because he has the platform as a professional athlete Wilson said he felt the need to join the cause.
“You get a lot of backlash for doing it so nobody wants to bring that attention to themselves,” Wilson said. “It’s a peaceful protest. We’re not hurting anybody. We just want to let the world know what’s going on.”
Gase has typically steered clear of the anthem protest controversy outside of a brief period last season when he created a team policy for those who didn’t want to stand for the anthem to stay inside the locker room or the tunnel.
Three weeks after creating that policy, Gase removed it when the three players — Stills, safety Michael Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas — who were protesting told him the policy was negatively affecting their pre-game preparation.
Last year Stills didn’t kneel during anthems played in preseason games, and he stood during the season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers because he said the message behind the protest was being lost by those who said it was unpatriotic.
He reversed course and began kneeling again a day after President Donald Trump criticized NFL players who knelt during a speech in Alabama. Stills said he did so to set an example for his teammates and others who want to fight for social justice.
This issue has dominated headlines over the past two seasons, caused division and alienated some fans.
The protests began in 2016 before a San Francisco 49ers exhibition game, when Colin Kaepernick took a knee as a push for social justice and campaign for racial equality and came in reaction to incidents of police brutality. Two years later, it has become one of the most divisive issues in sports because some feel protesting during the anthem is unpatriotic.
Ross, who initially supported his players protesting during the anthem in 2016, has provided contradicting stands regarding the protests. Last year, he stood in locked arms with the players before a 20-6 loss to the New York Jets as players protested against the comments made by Trump.
But Ross has consistently pointed out that the cause for the protest has been hijacked by those claiming it’s unpatriotic.
Ross voted in favor of creating a policy preventing players from kneeling during the offseason. He has also put millions of dollars in the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE), an organization he started in 2013 with the goal of using sports to create social change.
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