MINNEAPOLIS - NFL teams opening their seasons in empty stadiums knelt, locked arms, raised fists in protest or stayed off the field entirely for the “Star-Spangled Banner” and the Black anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” on Sunday, Sept. 13 as the once-reluctant league brought racial injustice to the forefront on the first full slate of the football season.
The Packers remained in their locker room for the two songs, following the lead of the Miami Dolphins, who said in a video last week that they would stay off the field for the national anthem rather than participate in “empty gestures” designed to placate the league’s fans.
Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy released this statement:
“The Green Bay Packers respect the national anthem and United States flag and all that they represent, including the right to express ourselves.
“We decided as a team to remain in the locker room during the playing of the national anthem and ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ so as to not distract from our message that we stand united for social justice and racial equality.
“This is part of our continued call on our leaders to engage in meaningful dialogue that results in change. We feel it is important for all of us to participate in these difficult conversations with humility and be open to different perspectives.”
The Minnesota Vikings hosted the family of George Floyd, who died in May after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the handcuffed Black man’s neck for nearly eight minutes — a videotaped killing that sparked national protests over police brutality against Black men.
Vikings players locked arms in the end zone about a half-hour before their game against Green Bay for “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the song unofficially known as the Black national anthem that was played before each game on Sunday as part of the NFL’s social awakening.
About 10 of Floyd’s relatives were then shown on the stadium video board from their perch in the upper concourse near the Gjallarhorn. The symbol of Norse mythology, which the Vikings took their name from, had been sounded before every game since 2007, but it remained silent.
Other teams lined up on their sideline or along the goal line and locked arms. A handful of players -- along with Indianapolis coach Frank Reich -- knelt during the anthem, a silent echo of the 2016 protest by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick that forced the NFL to confront racial injustice in a way that Commissioner Roger Goodell and many of the league’s most powerful owners would have preferred to avoid.
Several teams made a point of stressing on Sunday that their protest was not unpatriotic -- a point Kaepernick also made, but which was often drowned out by politicians latching on to the issue, including President Donald Trump.
The NFL had been the focus of protests in American sports ever since Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to call attention to the systematic oppression of Black people in the U.S. Kaepernick, who led San Francisco to the Super Bowl in 2012 and the NFC title game the next year, was unable to get a job in the league in 2017.
But the football league was in its offseason when Breonna Taylor was shot in her own apartment by Louisville police in March; when Floyd was killed in May; when Jacob Blake was shot and paralyzed by Kenosha, Wisconsin, police in August; and when protests over those and other acts of violence against Black Americans erupted across the nation.
Goodell posted a video in June conceding that the league had been late in acknowledging the problem. Since then, the league has taken visible steps like allowing racial justice messages in end zones and on helmets and T-shirts. Some team owners have pledged money toward social justice causes or offered their stadiums as polling places for the November election.
Packers players have made multiple mentions of a social justice plan in the off-season following the death of George Floyd.
On Instagram and Twitter Sunday morning, the Packers posted a picture of a t-shirt that reads "End Racism" with the caption "Bigger than football."
On Thursday night, in the first game of the 2020 NFL season, the Houston Texans left the field before the national anthem ahead of their game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.