A trio of New York Giants could no longer stick to sports on Sunday afternoon.
Three prominent members of the New York Giants defense—Safety Landon Collins, along with defensive linemen Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon—knelt in protest during the traditional singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” before the team’s heartbreaking 27-24 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
They became the first Giants to publicly act in the wave of protests around the league.
After the game, Collins and Vernon explained their stances. The two declared a love and respect for America while expressing an appreciation for the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which grants freedom of speech to American citizens.
“It’s a family thing over here. I’m not going to let a bud take a knee by himself,” Collins said. “We love our country to death. But at the same time, we respect each other, and we have a family over here. We’re going to fight for each other.”
“I respect this nation, this country. I’m a first-generation American,” Vernon said. He later added “[The First Amendment lets you] show how you feel, non-violently. If you have a platform to do it, it doesn’t matter how much money you make, why not do it? Why not stand down with your brothers and represent something that’s bigger than the game of football?”
The rest of the team locked arms during the Anthem, which featured a massive American flag unfurled by servicemen and women, and concluded with a military flyover.
Anthem protests took center stage in the NFL this weekend after President Donald Trump controversially expressed a desire to see all kneeling players fired during a political rally in Alabama on Friday night. The protests began last year with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt to protest police brutality against African-Americans. Kaepernick remains unsigned since opting out of his contract this offseason.
Collins went on to add that sports can be a unifier among the American people.
“Sports is something that brings this country together,” he said. “White, Black, Hispanic…any color that you are, it brings us together. You look into the crowd, you almost got every race in the crowd. It brings us together, and we fight on together.”
While Collins would not comment on whether the President’s comments had an effect on his protest, Vernon offered a blunt take on the Commander-in-Chief.
“Nobody scares me,” Vernon said. “I’ve played this game, I’ve been raised the right way. I know what’s right and what’s wrong. Ain’t nobody will ever scare me. I don’t care if you’re the President or not. He ain’t my President. So that’s what it is.”
Vernon, who called the protest a “necessary thing to do”, is the son of a Jamaican father and a Swiss mother. His father, Lascelles, has been in law enforcement for 25 years.
“[Me and my father] have talked on multiple occasions about what’s going on in this country, and he knows it’s not right,” Vernon said. “So I did what was necessary, and what’s fair is fair. If you can protest something that’s non-violent and make a stand for something, what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with acting on the First Amendment? Freedom of Speech…I don’t understand what’s the problem with that.”
While Harrison did not speak to reporters after the game, he left a statement on his Twitter account:
Took a knee with my hand over my heart to respect the men & women of service, past & present. Also with the realities of America in mind. pic.twitter.com/c4NqPUteO0
— Damon Harrison (@BigDame900) September 24, 2017
Asked if they will continue their protest in the coming weeks, both Collins and Vernon replied: “We’ll see”.
Numerous NFL players and owners spoke out against Trump’s comments, including Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch. In a statement released through a team spokesperson on Saturday afternoon, the Giants’ owners labeled the President’s comments as “inappropriate, offensive and divisive”. They also stated they were “proud” of their players, praising them for using “their NFL platform to make a positive difference in society”.
Giants head coach Ben McAddo did not directly address his kneeling players, but likewise spoke out against the comments in his postgame press conference.
“It seems like the message we’re getting from the White House is that they’re to create division in the league,” McAdoo said. “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. They grew up a lot different than a lot of people.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490