It is a measure of just how thought-provoking Colin Kaepernick’s protest of racial discrimination and oppression has become that two of the players most offended by his decision to sit, then kneel, for the national anthem no longer harbor the same resentment and anger.
Giants receiver Victor Cruz and guard Justin Pugh let the 49ers’ quarterback have it after he refused to stand for the anthem, with neither hiding his disgust. Cruz chided Kaepernick, saying “You’ve got to respect the flag, and you’ve got to stand up with your teammates.” On Twitter, Pugh called it “disrespectful to all the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect this country.”
But after Friday’s fatal shooting by Tulsa, Oklahoma, police of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, and with some Giants considering whether they will join Kaepernick’s protest, Cruz and Pugh are more open to the idea and what it represents. Both will continue to stand, as will the overwhelming majority of their teammates, if not all of them.
If some do choose to sit, kneel or raise a fist, there will be no hard feelings from Cruz or Pugh. Especially in light of Crutcher’s death and the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by police in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Tuesday.
“Let’s be clear. I understand where our country is, and I understand where we are in terms of Black Lives Matter and things of that nature,” Cruz told Newsday Wednesday. “I’m not naïve to what’s going on. But in terms of this locker room and in terms of what guys want to do in their own right, that’s their own prerogative. I don’t disagree with them, because I feel like if they do sit it out, they make a valid point. They have things that they’ve obviously spoken to their families about, and they have a valid point to do what they feel is right. It’s completely on them. I don’t judge them. I don’t look at them any differently.”
Pugh was furious at Kaepernick, mostly because he saw his protest as a sign of disrespect to the military. Pugh’s brother, Michael, is in the Air Force and has served in Iraq.
“I think when I first made a statement, it was more along the lines of coming from a military background,” Pugh told Newsday. “But now I see where those guys are coming from. And if things like (shootings) continue to happen . . . Something’s got to change and players are going to make a stand for it. I respect their decision to do what they do, but they have to respect my decision to stand.
“We have a platform as athletes, and when something is said or done, people are going to listen,” Pugh said. “That puts a spotlight on some things that are happening. And it’s probably necessary at this point. Things aren’t changing.”
Giants running back Rashad Jennings has been outspoken in supporting Kaepernick while still standing for the anthem out of respect for the military.
“It’s important that people don’t get so focused and fixated on making gestures during the national anthem,” he said. “But there is enough that has happened to where we can’t have a blind eye. It takes people in privileged positions for the unprivileged or oppressed to even be heard, no matter what the situation is — color, race, ethnicity, religion, whatever it is.”
Cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who was with St. Louis when the nearby city of Ferguson erupted in violent protests following last September’s fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, said some players have considered protesting the anthem.
“You have to do it the right way,” he said. “Us as a team, we haven’t decided yet, but if we do, we will do it the right way.”
And what would that entail?
“We’ll come up with ideas,” Jenkins said.
Defensive tackle Jay Bromley is still considering whether to stand for the anthem and is deeply troubled about recent events.
“I feel like a lot of (teammates), it’s something that they’re going to filter in their hearts throughout the course of the week and see how they want to go about it,” he said. “I’m continuing to watch the news to get an understanding of certain things going on. I feel like the Kaepernick thing holds a lot more validity now because he did it and now something happened. Now you know why he did it. It seems like it might open up a lot more eyes around the league.”
Bromley compared Ahmad Khan Rahami, the suspect in last weekend’s pipe bomb blasts in Manhattan and New Jersey, and Crutcher.
“A guy injures 30 people and has a shootout with cops and he lives, and there’s a guy (Crutcher) you see on camera, there’s five cops looking at him, and you shoot him,” Bromley said. “It’s like, at what point is there really justice? We’re African- Americans and we grew up in these communities. It’s important to respect people’s opinions and understand the true meaning behind this stuff. These silent protests mean nothing if nothing changes. The bigger picture is how can we as a people in this great place, the United States of America, come together and understand how to fix the problem.”
Giants coach Ben McAdoo wants to see change, too, but not at the expense of the anthem. McAdoo was quite eloquent in stating his belief that pressing for societal progress should be a common goal for the organization. And he wants to do it together.
“I had a conversation with a few guys, and they’re conflicted and want to make a difference,” McAdoo said. “I encourage them to, and I’d like to be involved with them. Anything I can do to help. But still, I feel that you can make a difference outside the anthem. I still believe you should pay tribute to the people who sacrifice their lives so we can coach and play in this great game.”
Jennings appreciates the coach’s openness and looks forward to working with local law enforcement organizations, including the New York City police.
“It’s good to have a coach who’s willing and understands and sees the bigger picture,” Jennings said. “He said at the beginning of the year that he doesn’t know what it’s like to be a woman, he doesn’t know what it’s like to be a black man, but he cares for every single one of our players and the people he works with.”
Jennings believes some good eventually will come of it.
“We’re going to do something, for sure,” he said of his community outreach plans. “It’s just a matter of what.”