Cleveland Browns players kneel in prayer during Monday national anthem
CLEVELAND — Kneeling and bowing their heads, the Cleveland Browns bonded over something bigger than football.
More than a dozen players formed a circle on the team’s sideline Monday night and prayed in silent protest during the national anthem.
The group, which included veterans, rookies, starters and backups, gathered in front of some water coolers and behind their teammates who stood on the sideline shortly before the Browns hosted the New York Giants.
In the aftermath of the recent racially charged conflict in Charlottesville, the Browns felt compelled to use their platform to make a difference.
“I wanted to take the opportunity with my teammates during the anthem to pray for our country,” said tight end Seth DeValve, one of two white players to participate. “And also to draw attention to the fact that we have work to do. And that’s why I did what I did.”
Linebackers Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey, running backs Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Terrance Magee and Brandon Wilds, safety Jabrill Peppers, DeValve, wide receivers Kenny Britt and Ricardo Louis and defensive back Calvin Pryor dropped to one knee in a huddle. Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, offensive tackle Shon Coleman, punter Britton Colquitt, defensive back Jason McCourty and offensive lineman Marcus Martin stood and supported their teammates by putting their hands on their shoulders.
Colquitt also placed a hand over his heart as Kirksey led the group in prayer.
“As professional athletes, in our realm and with our platform, we can invoke a lot of change,” said McCourty, who signed with the Browns as a free agent in March after eight seasons in Tennessee. “Guys are trying to do something to stand on our platform and show people that we want to stand up for this country and show that no matter what your color is, no matter what your background is, whatever, we can all come together and work together to make it a better place.”
The protest was the largest so far in a social-consciousness movement started last season by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who became a polarizing figure for kneeling during the anthem and is currently out of the NFL. In recent days, Seattle defensive lineman Michael Bennett and Philadelphia defensive back Malcolm Jenkins also have called attention to what they feel is racial injustice in the country.
Oakland running back Marshawn Lynch also has sat during the national anthem in the preseason, but hasn’t elaborated on his reasoning.
Browns coach Hue Jackson, who last week clarified previous remarks that seemed to indicate he was opposed to any demonstrations, stood behind his players.
“We respect our players; we respect the flag,” Jackson said following Cleveland’s 10-6 win.