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Buffalo Bills players, coaches respond to national anthem protests

They share their thoughts.

Denver Broncos v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills locked arms, knelt, and did other things before Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos in response to President Donald Trump’s Friday comments arguing that NFL owners should fire players who protest the national anthem. The Bills held an optional meeting Saturday night for players to share their concerns with team officials.

After the game, players and head coach Sean McDermott were asked about the protest. Here are their responses.

Head coach Sean McDermott

Q: What was the nature of your team meeting last night? What led to the demonstration during the anthem?

A: Well, really it was us, with Terry and Kim [Pegula] and players, coaches, staff, coming together and having a conversation that was very productive. The statement, we stand by that statement and it speaks to the unity, equality and love and that’s what we came up with from that meeting.

Q: Why did you want to walk towards midfield? It’s something that isn’t normal.

A: Well, we just felt like it was the right thing to do.

Q: What was the reaction of players in that meeting and why were some of them kneeling?

A: I’d like to keep most of what went on in that meeting other than the statement [private]. Those things are team deals right there so I’d like to keep that amongst the team. But it was a productive meeting, like I said. A lot of good conversation that came from it.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor

Q: In terms of respect, I mean everything this team went through last night with the discussion, are you of the opinion that what came out of that is a team that should be stronger moving forward?

A: Absolutely, there is definitely times throughout a season where with teams where things are going to happen, whether it is off the field or on the field. Teams could fragment or they could closer together. I think last night’s discussion and even us being out there on the field today definitely brought us together. Of course the win brought us together but the brotherhood of us being on the sideline on the same page, supporting one another, I think definitely brings us closer.

Q: What plans if any are there to continue protesting?

A: It is still early. I can’t really say what plans we have, nothing concrete. Of course this has to be something, in order for it to change or in order for the awareness to be beneficial it has to be something that goes on consistently. I think it is something that the league as a whole has to continue to support. I cannot say whether there are concrete plans right now to be honest.

Q: Is it fair to say that as long as the president continues to take shots, literally, at you and your fellow players in the league, that you are going to respond somehow, in the form that was today throughout the league?

A: In the best case scenario you want to be proactive. Of course today was kind of reactive because he said something that people felt he need to go out and do things, but moving forward in order for us to get the response out of it that we are looking for ultimately we need to be proactive. That just comes with everyone standing together. Thinking through it, like I said it is still early, and hopefully we can find a solution to it.

Q: In the larger picture you always hear the players, yourself included, talking about the NFL being a brotherhood. It seemed that way today because everybody across the league, not just the Bills, took a stand. What does that say about the unity not just here but throughout the entire league?

A: It is definitely a brotherhood. The comments that were made I think were definitely an attack against the shield. As players you protect that shield. Of course you protect the logo that is on the side of your helmet, you play for the name that is on the back of your jersey, but at the end of the day you play for that shield. It is a privilege to play for the shield, and we as players took that as a personal attack. Like I said, I don’t necessarily have the answers right now as to what to do to solve it but we are going to continue to keep working through it daily.

Q: What lead to your own personal decision to remain standing?

A: That is just something that I have always done. I honestly pray during the national anthem, I have been doing that since I started sports when I was a kid. I try to stay to my routine. I do not condemn or look down on anyway, I support them. They are my brothers, if that is their choice and they want to make it, then I am fine with that.

Running back LeSean McCoy

Q: What led to you not standing during the national anthem?

A: Well, the flag and the national anthem means a lot, to me, to my teammates. We had a long meeting Saturday night and I was very bothered the comments of our president of this country. As a president you’re supposed to lead us, you’re supposed to bring us together. You know, you’re supposed to lead this country. I can’t stand and support something where our leader of this country is acting like a jerk, angry and upset about NFL players protesting in a peaceful manner. I won’t go to different areas and subjects, but in this country a lot of different things are going on, with people protesting in a violent way. If a guy wants to take a knee or wants to express himself in a different manner, he has that right. And the biggest thing is that it’s in a peaceful manner. You know, so that really bothered me. I think us as a group, as a team, we want to display that. We come together as a team and show to the world that no matter how different each other person are, we can come together. It’s as simple as that.

Q: I know you had reacted to a question about Colin Kaepernick a couple weeks ago, you said that may not have been the best platform for him to use. How do you reconcile this?

A: You know, the good thing about this country is that you can do what you want, the freedom to express yourself. And I felt that, hey if that’s something he wants to do, it’s perfectly fine. At times I thought I wouldn’t to do something like that, and then when you hear different remarks and comments from our leader, from our President of the United States. This is a great country. You know, people strive hard to get over here, they do a lot of different things to get over here for a reason. And when that leader, your president makes different comments, it’s just hard for me to respect and try to represent some of this that I don’t believe in.

Q: There were about 10 or 12 of you that kneeled or weren’t standing, was that thought up of on an individual basis?

A: We talked about it as a team. Everybody that was bothered and felt like they wanted to kneel expressed their selves. Coach and the owners granted our wishes and that’s what we wanted to do. As you’ve seen around the NFL, a lot of the players have responded, and not only the players, a lot of the owners have responded, not in the president’s favor. So I think it just shows that around the NFL, the unity to come together. And you know, that’s really it.

Q: LeSean, the purpose of a protest is to…

A: Let’s talk about football man. You know I’m not going to sit here the whole time and go on about this. I’ve addressed those questions, let’s go on to some football questions.

Wide receiver Jordan Matthews

Q: The protest today. Can you just take me through your mindset, not only during it but the conversation you guys had?

A: Yeah. You know, we got together and it was awesome to see everybody from all different walks of life at that talk. It’s awesome to be a part of an organization that allows everybody to come together and speak freely about their beliefs or about their stance on this protest and everything. Obviously, the main thing that we want to highlight is this is never done to disrespect the military. Like I said, even dating back to when [Colin] Kaepernick first made his stand, he wanted that to be known. This is not to disrespect the military. He knew that that time was a platform that he would probably be able to get the conversation going. For anybody who says it didn’t mean anything, obviously it’s meant something. I heard somebody say once, they tried to bury him and he was a seed, and now it’s kind of grown. I think the biggest thing that you’ve seen now is how the public demonstrations have gone to another level.

I think obviously the President’s comments the other day struck a cord with a few people. Before, there were a bunch of guys doing the public demonstrations, but there were a lot of guys who were more working in the private sector. I knew a lot of guys who would do stuff in their hometowns to help with the battle with discrimination. Doing stuff with kids, mentoring, all those things. Making huge donations, but they just weren’t doing the public demonstrations because they felt like ‘hey, there’s a bunch of guys that have already done that. That’s their calling. I’m going to do this.’ I even felt like that’s what I was taught to do for the longest [time]. After the President’s recent comments, I think that’s where you’ve seen the growth because I wouldn’t repeat what he said, but to make that comment about people, your own citizens. Malcolm Jenkins is a good friend and Malcolm has been extremely vocal and extremely active in this whole protest from the very beginning, and so to call him that. I felt like I’d be wrong not to stand with him. I’m with you. That’s not who you are, that is not, that word does not define you, and I’m standing with you because essentially, are we ever going to cure racism completely?

I think there’s always going to be evil in the world. I truly believe that and that’s the sad part about it, but can we all stand up and say ‘look, we’re not going to stand for hate. We’re going to be the people that are the voices for love and equality.’ That’s exactly what we’re going to do, and I think that the Bills have expressed that. They said that this is a place where we stand together to promote love and equality and a free space for people to express their beliefs. That’s it. That’s the bottom line. That’s why you saw everybody on one line, where there were people kneeling, where there were people standing, and where people had their hand on their hearts. Even in the diversity, there’s still unity and that’s what I think people have realized and that’s what America is. We’re not all going to be the same and I don’t think people should expect everyone to be the same. That’s the beauty of it, is that even in the diversity, there’s still unity and I think that’s the best part about the Bills and the way they’ve been able to let us do this.

Wide receiver Andre Holmes

Q: As divisive as the issue is, that happens before the game and all of that, do you think last night’s meeting brings you guys, as a team, closer together, and you’ll be stronger as a group for it?

A: I think we’ve already had a family feel here on this team. I know that people have been talking about it, I’ve heard it on TV and all that kind of stuff. I think it’s already there, it’s still a huge moment. Tough circumstances, we did grow stronger after that, just like every team.

Q: On a broader scope, you always hear NFL players talking about how it’s a brotherhood, across the entire league, it seemed that way because every single team kind of made a stand and did something, during the anthem, what does that say about how united the entire league is?

A: That’s what everyone wants, everyone to be united together and have love and equality for everybody. That’s what every team in the NFL wanted to portray, we don’t want people divided. That’s not good for us, not good for our country. That’s what we were going for.

Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander

Q: Can you take us through the discussions before the game and even through the anthem?

A: Yeah obviously it was in a response to our Presidents comments as far as calling people that were peacefully protesting SOB’s. For me the backdrop being Charlottesville and calling Neo-Nazi’s and KKK members fine people. Then making that comparison and drawing a hard line versus NFL players doing something peaceful. That really touched me because the guys that are taking the knee are trying to bring social awareness to the injustice and inequalities in this country. That doesn’t meant that they’re not patriots or they don’t love their country because we do. We have great privileges here but as members of a U.S. citizen I want to call or bring attention to things that need change. With that, today I kneeled but I won’t continue to kneel. I kneeled to show those guys that I got their back. That I am with them. However I am also with our military, our country, but I don’t think you can just all go put us in a box and draw a line. Whether you have to be all for my country or all for social justice. I can be for everything and that is the point we want to get across.

Q: How concerned are you that some people out there don’t understand what this protest is exactly about?

A: You can’t please everybody. You can explain where you’re at and they can either hear you or not hear you. I think if you have talked to people that have kneeled, Michael Bennett has done a great job on explaining on why what he is doing. If you don’t understand it, then that’s just where you’re at. You can’t change everybody’s minds. There’s some guys on this team who won’t kneel. We have several guys that say I don’t want to do it, but it’s all about respecting people’s opinions and perspectives but we still love each other and that’s what this country is all about. With that, I think that’s what those guys are trying to do.

Q: What was that discussion like as far as those teammates that some guys would do it and some who didn’t? When all of this came to the head?

A: It was great. It was open dialogue. What I really appreciated was the owners being in that room. The GM being there and supporting us. Terry Pegula--he grew up poor and he hasn’t forgotten where he has come from. He did a great job as far as to relating with us and allowing us to use our platform and really his organization to stand on and make a statement. A lot of respect for him. A lot of owners didn’t have to do that or didn’t do that. Everybody felt like something needed to be done and whether some guys would kneel, we would all be together. That was the key. We had different opinions that come from different backgrounds. However at the end of the day respect one another.

Q: Those SOB’s almost sounded racist in a way?

A: Yes, the closest you could walk up to saying it without actually saying it. I mean the majority of this league is African American. Then to make it personal, like I took a knee today does that mean I’m an SOB now? Is my mom a B? Everybody that knows my mom knows no. I think people that have a platform and are making a lot of money need to stand up and use your platform. That’s what it is all about. I have a huge voice and if I see something going on that’s what it is all about. Stepping up for those guys that don’t have a voice and that’s what guys are doing around the league. Either you understand or you don’t. I’m not here to change everybody’s mind. I’m going to do what I think is right and I think today was a perfect example of that.

Defensive end Jerry Hughes

Q: Given what our President said and given that you’re an NFL player, can you tell us how you feel?

A: 45 [President Trump] is going to say those things and as disturbing as that is, that’s not what our leader is supposed to do. Our leader, especially of American, our leader of our country, is supposed to be bringing everybody together, no matter race, no matter nationality, no matter religion. We’re here in this country as free people and we’re all here to be Americans. It doesn’t really matter. That’s how our country was brought up, so for 45 to divide the nation like that, it’s sad but you know, at the end of the day, you kind of expect it from our President.

Q: But at the end of the day today, you’ve now got owners publicly expressing support of players where many had not yet. Is what President Trump said actually what brought this to a rightful awareness where now, the message has been put across?

A: Our owners supported us. They support the team, they support the community, that’s what we embody here in Buffalo and that’s what our message was today.

Kicker Steven Hauschka

Q: What did it mean to have the owners participate in the meeting last night, about what you guys would do today?

A: I think it speaks volumes that the owners were involved in our conversations as a team last night. They support their players, they support their coach. What’s going on in our facilities is really special. There’s a lot of positive energy there, there’s a lot of love, caring and respect, regardless of what people’s opinions are, on the matter.

Q: Do you think, even though it’s been such a divisive issue, that ironically, last night brought you, as a team, together and that you’re going to be better for this?

A: I think we will be better from this. Coach [McDermott] alluded to this, there’s times throughout the season where teams are challenged, and the challenges might be different every year, but there’s times when teams are able to respond in a positive way, and come together closer, or they can separate and pull apart. I think this is a great example of Coach McDermott keeping guys together, and keeping guys unified, regardless of our opinions. I think we have a really tight-knit group here in this locker room, and I’m proud to be a Buffalo Bill.

A few more comments were given Monday and we will post them here when we get transcripts.