MIAMI, FL. — Miami Dolphins wide receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson took a knee during the national anthem before their team's preseason opener Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, becoming the first players to do so in the lead-up to the 2018 season.
Stills is continuing the protest he began in 2016. Wilson, a new Dolphin, did not protest previously while he was with the Kansas City Chiefs. Defensive end Robert Quinn also raised a fist during the anthem, as he did for the last two seasons when he was with the Los Angeles Rams.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who sparked the player movement in 2016 when he kneeled to protest social injustices and racial inequality, tweeted his support for Stills and Wilson, as did former 49ers safety Eric Reid.
In May, team owners passed a new policy that would require players to stand on the sideline during the anthem or stay in the locker room. The Associated Press reported last month that the Dolphins had a provision in their player conduct manual stating violators of that policy could be fined or suspended.
But the NFL has since said the policy was on hold and no new rules would be created or enforced amid discussions with the NFL Players Association. The players' union was not consulted before the owners passed the new policy.
Stills told reporters after the game that he has the support of his head coach, Adam Gase, and that he expects his protests to continue into the regular season. It would take “a lot” for Stills to stop demonstrating, the receiver said, possibly beyond whatever agreement the league and union might reach.
“A good first step as a league would be to acknowledging what they’re doing to Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid," Stills said. "You can’t say as a league you support the players and the protests, but blackball the players that initially started the protests."
The league said in a statement Thursday night after the protests that no players would be subject to punishment but noted that the current guidelines remain in place.
"The NFL has engaged in constructive discussions with the NFL Players Association regarding the anthem and issues of equality and social justive that are of concern to many Americans," the statement read. "While those discussions continue, the NFL has agreed to delay implementing or enforcing any club work rules that could result in players being disciplined for their conduct during the performance of the anthem.
"Meanwhile, there has been no change in the NFL's policy regarding the national anthem. The anthem will continue to be played before every game, and all player and non-player personnel on the field at that time are expected to stand during the presentation of the flag and performance of the anthem. Personnel who do not wish to do can choose to remain in the locker room."
Around the league Thursday night, other players choose to remain in the locker room, including four Jacksonville Jaguars — cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Telvin Smith, and running backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon — and three Seattle Seahawks — left tackle Duane Brown and defensive ends Quinton Jefferson and Branden Jackson. Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett, who sat during the anthem last year while with the Seahawks, entered the field as the anthem began playing and stood behind his teammates. Safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback De’Vante Bausby each raised a fist.
Jenkins, one of the founders of the Players Coalition, stopped raising his fist midway through last season after the league committed to financially supporting players’ social justice causes.
Jenkins and a handful of Eagles teammates, including receiver Alshon Jeffery, wore T-shirts during pregame warmups to highlight one of those issues. The shirts said “More than 60% of prison populations are people of color.” Last week, Jenkins and other members of the Players Coalition wore shirts during training camp practices with messaging about youth incarceration.