Cameron Jefferson raised his fist during the national anthem on the Buffalo Bills sideline Thursday night. At practice Sunday morning, Bills head coach Sean McDermott spoke to the team about the protest, the first by a Bills player since Colin Kaepernick began his kneeling protest a year ago.
"What I want all of our players to understand is that we are going to support them," McDermott told the media. "Everyone obviously has their view on things and I think the key word here is respect. We respect Cam’s opinion. We respect and acknowledge what’s going on, and it’s important that we can communicate and a big part of communication is listening and I did a lot of listening yesterday."
McDermott also spoke privately with Jefferson before the meeting. The offensive lineman is probably not going to make the team, and has been running with the third-team all camp but he appreciated the one-on-one time with his coach.
"I thought it was a healthy meeting and conversation," the coach said. "Again, the key word in all of this is respect. Respect this situation, respect the communication end of things moving forward, and then respect the process of what’s going on in this country and this world."
"It's a good feeling, especially a guy they signed in April," Jefferson said. "I'm not a starter. I'm not a top draft pick, but for him to really hear me out and listen to me and sit down with me man to man, eye to eye – it was a great feeling to have that from a head coach."
Jefferson has been running with the third team all offseason. He was released by the Denver Broncos at the end of the preseason a year ago after spending time on their practice squad the previous season.
"He understood and he just wanted to make sure it wasn't a distraction to the team," Jefferson continued. "Make sure that he was on board, make sure he knows what I'm doing and what I'm about not really trying to be a distraction to anybody, not be a distraction to him because as a head coach, he's the head coach over everybody -- not just one individual."
While his coach and team has been supportive, social media hasn’t been all kind. Jefferson says he is taking it in stride knowing you can’t please everyone all the time, especially when speaking on a controversial topic.
During the team meeting, the only request McDermott has was that he know about the protest ahead of time so he can answer questions about it and not be blindsided. With that, there will likely be more displays this Saturday night from the Bills bench, not fewer.
Lorenzo Alexander, a member of the NFLPA’s executive committee and veteran leader on the defense, said it’s important that players who protest can “give a reason why” and not just see it as the “in” thing to do.
"I don't want it to be a thing where it just becomes a cool thing to do because you see guys around the league doing it," said Alexander. "Have some reasoning behind it. And then also, No. 2 is, take it a step further and engage your community – whether it's with kids or political figures in your community to create some real change past just starting a conversation. I think it's going to take all of those things if we really want to see some real change in totality throughout our culture and our country today."
__Editors note: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the player was Cameron Jordan. We regret the error._