GLENDALE, Az. Thirty 49ers players knelt with their hands over the hearts during the anthem ceremony Sunday, the first one San Francisco has taken part in since league-wide demonstrations began last week.
While those players, with safety Eric Reid at the center, were on a knee, the rest of the team stood behind them with a hand on the kneeling players’ shoulders and the other over their heart. General manager John Lynch and CEO Jed York were among the team officials on the field. Both stood.
Before the game, the 49ers issued a statement on behalf of the players, coaches, ownership and staff that urged the nation to “embrace” its differences. While citing its “tremendous respect for our military and veterans” the team also noted its obligation to “to speak up for those whose voice is not heard.”
The full statement:
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“At its purest level, football is a unifier of people from all walks of life, different socio-economic backgrounds, every corner of this country and around the world. As players, coaches, ownership and staff, we are privileged to work in an environment that is a tremendous example of how people can come together for a common goal. We not only put our differences aside, but we also use them to achieve that common goal by challenging each other to be better - both in our professional and personal lives.
“For more than a year, members of our team have protested the oppression and social injustices still present in our society. While some may not have taken a knee or raised a fist, we have all shared the desire to influence positive change. Today, our team chose to publicly display our unity in a new way and, in turn, urge others do the same. Our demonstration is simply a representation of how we hope our country can also come together by putting differences aside and solving its problems.
“As the majority of us have done throughout our careers, we use our platform as members of a NFL team, and our right to freedom of expression, to speak up for those whose voice is not heard. It is important that we continue to emphasize that despite our different backgrounds and beliefs, we still love each other and are truly a brotherhood. Our gesture today was an intentional effort to demonstrate that. Make no mistake, we love this great country and have tremendous respect for our military and veterans who have sacrificed so much for our right to express ourselves freely. We passionately want what is best for this country and all its citizens.
“On behalf of the San Francisco 49ers organization, we urge our fellow citizens to embrace your differences, find strength in them, and come together for the good of all.”
Reid initially said he would stand for the national anthem this season. But he changed his mind following Donald Trump’s ambiguous commentary on the violence between white supremacists and counter protestors in Charlottesville, Va. in August.
“I didn’t hear too many boos today,” Reid said after the game. “I was actually kind of surprised by that, but I think those are people who just don’t understand. Maybe they aren’t willing to hear what we’re talking about, but we have a target audience and that audience is the NFL, the commissioner and the owners. We think they can use their clout, their financial resources and the platform to help correct these issues.”
Trump has constantly chided the NFL for allowing some players to sit or kneel during the anthem, critiques that have only prompted more players to do so and for their owners to defend their right to protest.