Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall became the latest NFL player to join 49er Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests on Thursday, kneeling during the pre-game rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the opening tie of the new NFL season.
Marshall is the third American football player to refuse to stand for the national anthem since Kaepernick, the San Francisco quarterback, remained seated during the anthem at a pre-season game in August, as a protest against racial injustice in the US.
Kaepernick, 28, a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, said at the time that he refused to “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.”
His protest drew a mixed response from the public and from fellow sportspeople. Members of a California police union said the 49er’s actions had “threatened the harmonious relationship” between players and police, while many veterans showed their support, spreading the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick after the player was accused of disrespecting the military.
Some critics were so angry with the quarterback that they filmed themselves burning replica shirts. Yet this week it was reported that Kaepernick shirts were the most popular NFL merchandise of the season so far, outselling not only his own teammates but top players from other teams.
President Barack Obama praised Kaepernick’s “sincerity”, saying he had “generated more conversation around topics that need to be talked about”.
Kaepernick was joined in his protest by teammate Eric Reid at the 49ers’ final pre-season game, while Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane remained seated during the anthem at a recent pre-season game against the Oakland Raiders.
Marshall, who played alongside Kaepernick at the University of Nevada, told NFL.com that he felt kneeling during the anthem was “the right thing to do.”
He went on: “I’m against social injustice. I’m not against the military or police or America at all… This is our only platform to really be heard. I feel like a lot of times people want us to just shut up and entertain them, shut up and play football. But we have voices as well. We’re actually educated individuals that went to college. So when we have an opinion and we speak it, I feel like a lot of people bash us for what we have to say.”
The Broncos went on to win their game against the Carolina Panthers.