Last week, Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott met with the media for the last time before training camp. The backdrop of that conversation was racial protests in the country and all around the NFL, coaches and players were speaking up and being asked about protesting at the beginning of NFL games during the national anthem.
“No, I’ve had no players reach out to me and let me know at this point of their intentions to kneel or protest at this point,” said McDermott. “I’m not saying that won’t happen. I’m just saying to your question at this point, that has not happened. But I want to reiterate my support of our players. I think that’s important right now. We’ve got a lot of time between now and that first game. And so I think the best thing we can do is make sure that they know that we support them and certainly respect their position on things.”
Owner Kim Pegula spoke on Friday, saying she was planning on continuing to stand during the national anthem but also supported those who chose to protest.
“Personally, I’m not going to kneel,” Pegula said on One Bills Live, the team’s daily radio show on WGR 550 in Buffalo. “But we’ve been listening. We’ve been learning to love other people and understand experiences and what they have gone through, what they’ve experienced, and what maybe the anthem or the flag means to them, it’s truly different than what I went through.”
Pegula was appearing on One Bills Live Friday to discuss Juneteenth, which was a holiday for members of the team for the first time in the team’s history.
“I think and I would hope that our players or anybody would understand that if I’m standing, that does not mean I am for racism,” she continued. “Certainly, it’s not. And the same goes for our players. If they choose to kneel, or whoever wants to protest, I don’t think it’s because they don’t love the country or they don’t respect our military or any of that.”
That’s a big step forward for many in NFL circles, who conflated the kneeling for racial quality with protesting the national anthem or the American flag. From the beginning, it wasn’t about disrespecting the anthem. Colin Kaepernick changed his protest from sitting to kneeling on the recommendation of an American veteran, who said kneeling was more reverent of the flag.
It doesn’t end with protests on the field or marches in the street. McDermott was quick to point out that conversations and caring are a big part the path forward.
“We’re always going to respect [the players’] position on things. And then we’re also going to do our part in listening and trying to educate ourselves. And following it up with love, I mean that’s been again, that’s nothing new,” said McDermott. “From me to you guys that I’m communicating and answering your question, I think that’s, that’s really, to me, the right way to go about things. That’s what we’re all about. No hidden agendas. You know we’re trying to do things the right way and it starts with respect and ends with love.”