Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

Patriots give reasons for kneeling during anthem: 'We want respect and unity'

Ty Anderson
September 24, 2017 - 6:42 pm

FOXBORO -- Over a year after Colin Kaepernick started kneeling down during the national anthem, and on the heels of President Donald Trump’s latest round of incendiary comments, the Patriots joined their NFL brethren and took a knee before Sunday’s Week 3 kickoff against the Texans. 16 of them, to be exact.

It was a decision met with a fierce reaction from the Gillette Stadium crowd, as a chorus of boos echoed and chants telling the players to “stand up” broke out over the song.

And after the 36-33 last-minute win for the Patriots, they explained their decision.

Some, like Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, opted to keep their explanations short.

“We had our reasons,” Gilmore said before immediately moving to game questions.

Others, however, were willing to delve into the reasons on a more personal level.

“It’s one of those things where you want to stand with your brothers, kneel with your brothers, and be by their side,” Brandin Cooks, the game’s hero with his last-minute touchdown grab, said. “One statement I would just like to make is that a lot of people think we’re disrespecting the flag and the military, but my father and uncle were Marines, and I have the utmost respect for the men and women that fight for our freedom. I feel conflicted in a sense because I have no courage to do something like that, so I understand the magnitude that they’re fighting across the world for our freedom.

“The message we’re trying to send is that we want respect and unity, and there’s only so many ways that you can do it,” Cooks continued. “We decided before the game that we were going to do it and I’m glad we went through with it.”

“I have nothing but respect for the flag. I love my country, but I just wanted to support my teammates,” Pats defensive end Cassius Marsh, who sent out a 'controversial' tweet earlier today and whose girlfriend served in the armed forces, said. “I think it’s a unifying thing in every locker room. You support your guys, you’re standing up for your teammates. And not only your teammates, but guys throughout this league. This NFL is a brotherhood, and it’s a privilege to be part of this, and to be able to represent that emblem. I see how these guys work, and we’re the same as the rest of the citizens in this world. We have the right to exercise each and every right we have as a U.S. citizen.

“It’s not about choosing sides or anything like that,” added Marsh. “My side is people. I love the people in this country, I love people in general, I love my teammates, I love my brothers in the this NFL, and I’m just here to support my guys.”

“I’ll put it in football perspective: You got a teammate, you want him to be his best, then you demand his best,” Trey Flowers said. “You demand better. And I just think if he’s not doing his best, then somebody should tell him, ‘Hey, you’re not doing your best.’”

And when asked if that somebody not doing his best was in fact President Donald Trump, Flowers instead continued to apply the lesson in football (and life) terms.

“If you got somebody you want to do their best, you want your brother to do his best, so you gonna tell him if he’s not doing his best,” Flowers, who by the end of it twice refused to say that he was talking Trump directly, added. “But if somebody’s not doing their best, I feel like it would be my job as a brother, as a father, as a son, to tell that person you should do a better job or just let them know that that’s probably not a good idea.”

And while the Patriots were aware of the mixed reaction their actions will certainly come with, they also understand that that’s just part of the beauty of this country.

“It is what it is. A lot of guys got their opinions, and I think they feel as though they did what they felt, so that’s how it is,” Flowers said. “We heard [the boos]. But that’s a difference of opinions. That’s the world we live in. A lot of people got different opinions.”

But regardless of what the outsiders think about their actions or stances, what the Patriots clearly believe they have -- especially after today -- is unity within their team.

“People come from all different backgrounds and I believe they do what they believe is right, and I totally support them,” New England tackle and seven-year Patriot Nate Solder said. “There’s a lot of craziness outside of this locker room, but inside this locker room, we truly lock arms. We love each other. This is a great, great environment.”

“I’ve got love for my teammates,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a player that opted to lock arms with his teammates rather than take a knee, said. “I mean, we go through a lot together. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. I don’t think it’s easy to play this sport. I mean, there’s a lot of guys that sacrifice a lot. I think you have a lot of respect for the guys who play, not only your teammates, but guys you play against.

“I believe in all of us coming together.”

Through boos or cheers, and while standing or kneeling.

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