Ben Watson didn’t kneel during the National Anthem yesterday in London, but he was right there in the chain of Ravens players and staff who locked arms in solidarity.
The Ravens tight end went on ABC’s “Good Morning America” today to discuss the furor of yesterday’s anti-Trump protests across the NFL, in which players on roughly two dozen teams knelt, sat, locked arms or stayed in their lockers room to challenge comments made by the president on Friday about players silently protesting during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
That evening, the leader of the United States appeared at a rally in Hunstville, Ala., and said players like Colin Kaepernick who engage in peaceful, kneeling protest during the National Anthem should be fired.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say: ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out,’” the president said candidly, per ABC. That same day, he uninvited Golden State Warriors guard and Under Armour endorser Stephen Curry from a championship visit to the White House, earning rebuke from the most famous basketball player in the world, Lebron James.
The football world responded swiftly, too. Jim Harbaugh, brother of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh commented Saturday, said the president’s words were “ridiculous” and advised Trump “to check the Constitution.” Players criticized the president on Twitter and in newscasts.
But it was all really a lead-up to Sunday, when the Ravens kicked off a day of NFL games with their overseas matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London. Before the game — which was actually a horrific blowout that ruined many people’s days here in Charm City — Ravens players and their head coach John Harbaugh linked arms.
Some, including Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Mike Wallace, knelt down Kaepernick-style. (Interestingly, hometown legend Ray Lewis joined in, too.) Others rested their hands on their kneeling colleagues’ backs. The same thing was happening across the field at Wembley Stadium on the Jacksonville Jaguars side.
Watson told GMA’s Michael Strahan today that he and his team weren’t aware at first about Trump’s explicit remarks on Friday, but that the news eventually trickled out. “There was a tremendous amount of emotion and a tremendous amount of hurt,” he said.
For the Ravens, Trump’s comments amounted to “a direct attack on our brotherhood,” Watson said. “Even to imply that we don’t have the right to express ourselves that way, whether you agree with it or not, it’s something that we really took to heart. It was an emotional time.”
Their actions out on the field were organic, he said. Watson, who Strahan pointed out publicly disagreed with Kaepernick’s form of protest last season, decided to lock arms and point his fingers to the sky. He replied to Strahan that he shares many of the former 49er’s concerns about police brutality and systemic racism, even if he didn’t — and still doesn’t — feel the need to kneel himself.
For what it’s worth, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti put out a statement yesterday saying, “We recognize our players’ influence. We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent. All voices need to be heard. That’s democracy in its highest form.”
As it goes here in Baltimore, fan reactions were split. While civil rights groups and activists cheered the form of expression, others were very upset. WJZ reports locals posted videos online of them burning their jerseys, apparently shedding their loyal fandom for the hometown team because of its players’ act of protest. Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler indicated on Facebook that he’s among those diehard fans who apparently aren’t diehards any longer.
This story almost certainly has legs. Even as the Ravens pick up the pieces after Sunday’s drubbing in London, Watson pointed out that the experience of protesting Trump’s words brought them together. Expect to see more around the league, and possibly here in Baltimore, next Sunday.
A previous version of this story incorrectly included Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette among a list of Ravens players.