When the national anthem is played before Sunday’s Giants-Chiefs game, Olivier Vernon will continue to do what he has done since the third week of the season.
He will take a knee.
Vernon is the only Giants player who continues to protest during the national anthem, and he plans to do so for the foreseeable future.
Still hoping to raise awareness about social injustice and racial inequality in America, the defensive end will not relent in the face of criticism that continues to come his way from fans who believe he is disrespecting the military by not standing for the anthem.
“What it would take for me to stand is if people can understand what the whole message is behind it,” Vernon told Newsday. “That would actually help a whole lot, but everybody doesn’t see things that way and tries to distort what the message was from the beginning, which is basically social injustice on African-Americans and police brutality.”
Vernon understands that not everyone respects his decision to take a knee, but he remains convinced that the best way to draw attention to the issues he’s most concerned about is to continue his form of protest.
He has attempted to draw a distinction over why he is still kneeling by stressing that it’s not meant as a sign of disrespect toward the military, and he referenced Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett’s comments before the Seattle-Arizona game on Nov. 9.
Bennett stood for the anthem for the first time this season, telling reporters that he did so in advance of Veterans Day as a sign of respect for the military.
“It was to signify that we are all with the military, and that we love them,” Bennett said after the game. “There has been this narrative that we don’t care about the military. Today, we were honoring the military, so we wanted to be able to honor the military.”
Vernon agreed with that sentiment, although he is aware that his explanation rings hollow with fans who resent players who don’t stand for the anthem.
“It has nothing to do with the anthem or the military,” he said. “Michael Bennett, he addressed it that Thursday night. People talk about not respecting police, you don’t respect the military. My father was in law enforcement, so what are you talking about? My father agrees with me. I have friends that are in the military that agree with me. The people that get the biggest voice are the people that disagree with [the anthem protests]. The people that do agree with it, they have no voice at all, which I don’t understand.”
Would there ever come a time that he would stand for the anthem?
“Unless we can work something out and find the solution and try to address what the real issue is,” he said, “I’ll continue to take a knee. I really don’t care what people outside have to say. I just believe in what’s right and what’s wrong, and I’m going to show support for what I believe in.”
Vernon has been heartened somewhat by the increased dialogue among players and NFL owners, who have held a series of discussions about the anthem protests. But those talks were interrupted late last month after comments made by Texans owner Bob McNair, who said during a meeting about the anthem protests with owners and some league executives that they “can’t have the inmates running the prison.”
Many players took that comment to mean that McNair likened them to inmates, although McNair said in a statement that he was referring to league executives, not the players. Many players, including Vernon, remain skeptical of McNair’s motivation.
“That was very shocking, to say the least,” Vernon said. “I know [players and owners] were making efforts to come up with something and try and put something in place, but I don’t know what the future holds on that.”
Vernon said he continues to be criticized for not standing but that he tries to ignore most of it.
“I get [criticism] all the time,” he said. “If it was anything that actually bothered me, I would care. There’s stuff that some people say that comes out of their mouth that is just ignorant and uneducated, so I just keep it moving and I don’t really address anything anybody has to say. If they can’t come at me on something intellectual, then I don’t have a response for you.”
He also isn’t concerned by the recent television ratings decline, at least some of which has been attributed to fans being turned off by the anthem protests.
“At the end of the day, there’s a First Amendment right as an American citizen,” Vernon said. “You have a right to protest peacefully. Protests aren’t supposed to be comfortable. Some people aren’t going to understand.”