John Fox can’t force his players to stand for the national anthem.
He can do everything but.
“We strongly encourage (players and coaches) to pay respect to the anthem,” the Bears coach said Thursday after practice at Halas Hall, his first comments related to the Colin Kaepernick protest. “It’s not anything we can mandate, but we strongly recommend it.
“So far, that’s been the case.”
Were it up to Fox, whose stepfather Ron served as a Navy SEAL, it will remain that way Sunday.
The 49ers quarterback’s peaceful preseason protest during the national anthem could carry extra weight if others join him before a regular season game, which garners more attention than any exhibition. Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall knelt Thursday night during the anthem, before his team played the Panthers. While the 49ers don’t play until Monday, 26 of the league’s 32 teams will make their debut on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
Kaepernick sat through the anthem for the first three exhibition games and then kneeled alongside teammate Eric Reid before the fourth anthem. Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane sat before the fourth preseason game in solidarity, as did Seattle Reign midfielder Megan Rapinoe. A member of the U.S. women’s soccer team, she knelt Sunday in Chicago before a match against the Red Stars.
Kaepernick said he did so to protest police brutality and social injustice, and said last week he would donate the first $1 million of his salary this year to charitable causes.
Wednesday, members of the Seahawks suggested that they could protest as a team before their season-opener. Thursday, though, former NFL snapper and ex-Green Beret Nate Boyer — who spoke with Kaepernick before he decided to kneel — Tweeted that he talked to Seahawks players. He described the team’s planned actions as “powerful sign of unification (and) respect for the anthem (and) those that fight for our freedom.”
The Broncos issued a statement shortly after Thursday’s anthem saying that, “while we encourage members of our organization to stand during the national anthem, we understand and respect it being a personal decision.”
Kaepernick has been clear that his protest is about police misconduct against minority groups, and meant not to disrespect the military. Public outrage, however, has largely focused on his methods — despite the fact he protests peacefully — rather than the message he wants others to hear.
Untangling feelings about the anthem and patriotism from the military is a complex issue, particularly in the 15 years since terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and thwarted action that crashed a plane in rural Pennsylvania.
Still, Bears receiver Eddie Royal said he can’t hear the anthem without thinking of the sacrifices of his sister, who served overseas in the Air Force.
“I know I love my sister and I respect everything that she does in our military,” Royal said last week. “And what they’ve done, just personally, just watching my sister go off to Iraq and Afghanistan, I know what they’re risking for us.
“So it has a special place in my heart and any time I think about it I get choked up because just seeing my sister going over there to protect us. It means a lot to me.”
Last week, Bears players seemed to distance themselves from the protest — “I got too much going on right here at Halas Hall to worry about what he’s got going on,” outside linebacker Willie Young said — while defending Kaepernick’s right to do so.
Linebacker Danny Trevathan said then that, “I believe if you want to do it, you should do it —but you have to know what you stand for and give it what you got.”
Guard Kyle Long Tweeted he would “always stand for the national anthem,” but “will also acknowledge the fact that racism is real.”
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