PHILADELPHIA — Landon Collins decided shortly before Sunday’s game against the Eagles that he would take a knee during the national anthem to protest critical remarks President Donald Trump made against NFL players protesting the anthem during a speech Friday in Alabama.
Once the Giants’ All Pro safety actually started to kneel down, he was overcome with emotion.
“It hurt,” Collins said after a 27-24 loss at Lincoln Financial Field. “I was about to break down in tears. I love this country. Somebody just attacked us, when we do nothing to them. Sports is something that brings this country together. White, black, Hispanic, any color that you are. At the same time, it hurt me [to hear Trump’s criticism].”
Collins, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and defensive end Olivier Vernon all took a knee during the anthem, and the rest of the Giants’ players and coaches stood arm-in-arm during the song.
“It seems like the message we are getting from the White House is that they are trying to create division in this league,” Giants coach Ben McAdoo said. “So we need to stick together as a football team. Going back to the message where we practice empathy here. I believe in it, and I’m not sure how much the president can empathize with our players and the way they grew up. Empathy is the key message here, to choose understanding over judgment.”
The Jets also made a show of solidarity during the anthem preceding Sunday’s game against the Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. Joined by chief executive officer Christopher Johnson — who has taken over leadership of the team from his brother, Woody, now serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Britain — all the players and coaches locked arms for the anthem. Johnson was flanked by quarterback Josh McCown and rookie safety Jamal Adams.
“It meant everything because it starts at the top,” McCown said after the Jets’ 20-6 win over Miami. “[Johnson] came around and talked to some guys before the game about being there and so for me that was, over my career one of the more special things, because no matter who you are, when you are at the top and you are willing to stand with your guys, I think there’s nothing more that shows or reflects better leadership than that, when you say I’m with you guys and we are on this together.”
Said Jets coach Todd Bowles: “Our team is socially aware. You have to be blind not to see what’s going on, but we discussed things as a team and we stick together. Everybody aired their differences and we talked about it and we came out as a team today united.”
Adams said Johnson’s presence showed “how much he cared about this team and this organization. For him to come up to everybody before the game, one-by-one and ask if he could [stand with the team], I was all for it. I walked up to him and said, ‘I’m going to stand right next to you.’ I appreciate that. We appreciate that as a team and it was outstanding.”
Vernon said Trump’s critical comments from Friday prompted him to take a stand by kneeling.
“All those remarks just built up, and last night, just hearing that kind of struck a chord,” he said.
Asked if he was afraid that Trump had put a figurative target on players who protested the anthem, Vernon said, “Nobody scares me. I play this game, I’ve been raised the right way, I know what’s right and what’s wrong, but ain’t nobody ever gonna scare me. I don’t care if you’re the president or not. You ain’t my president.”
Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas, one of the team’s captains, said the team wanted to show unity in condemning Trump’s remarks.
“We wanted to do something together, in solidarity.” He said. “I’m not a fan of his. I don’t speak on it as much as other guys do, but I stand for our beliefs, and our beliefs as Americans. We have people that went and fought for us over the decades and over the centuries that fought for our freedom and our liberties to be able to protest — friendly protest — and be able to have a voice, and to have everybody individually to have a voice. And for the president to go ahead and call us a son of a [expletive] for doing what we’re right to do . . .
“The people that fought for our flag, that’s what they’re for,” he said. “They’re fighting for our freedom and our right to be able to do stuff like that. Everybody has their opinion on certain things. The only thing I wanted to do is do it together and that’s what we did. We all held hands before the game and we did it in solidarity and that’s what we believe in.”