49ers cheerleader kneels during national anthem before Thursday game

A San Francisco 49ers cheerleader was spotted kneeling during the national anthem at Thursday's game against the Oakland Raiders.
A San Francisco 49ers cheerleader kneels during the national anthem at Thursday night football game against the Oakland Raiders.@GatorLenny
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By Erik Ortiz, Todd Johnson and Ethan Sacks

A cheerleader for the San Francisco 49ers appeared to kneel during the national anthem before Thursday night's nationally televised game against the Oakland Raiders.

The 49ers declined comment about the unidentified cheerleader.

Levi Stadium, where the team plays its home games, has been at the center of the protests since then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during "The Star-Spangled Banner" in 2016. The kneeling was meant to call attention to racial oppression and a string of incidents involving black people being killed by police, but caused a wave of controversy in the process.

The 49ers' owner, Jed York, has been supportive of players who protest in the past.

Kaepernick became a free agent after the 2016 season, and currently has a case against the NFL claiming the league's owners colluded to keep him off a team's roster following the outrage from some over the protests.

That outrage extended all the way to the White House, where President Donald Trump has condemned the protests repeatedly, demanding in August that offending players be suspended without pay.

"I don’t think you can disrespect our country, our flag, our national anthem,” Trump said in Sept. 2017. “Many (military) people have died.”

Former 49ers cheerleader Mariah Mendez told NBC News that some members of the Gold Rush cheer squad had actually begun taking a knee last season.

Mendez said those protests began with the Oct. 22, 2017, home game against Dallas as a message to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a vocal critic of the kneeling players.

"That's the crazy part of all this attention: These protests have been going for awhile," said Mendez.

Earlier this year, the NFL threatened fines against teams if a player does not stand during the national anthem, but later halted the plan while the NFL Players Association and league owners agree on a resolution. York was the only owner abstain when the rest of the league's ownership voted to penalize participating players at the time.

"We want to make sure everything we do is to is to promote progress," York told reporters.

In the first eight weeks of the season, some players have continued to take a knee or raise their fists before games.

CORRECTION (Nov. 2, 2018, 10:09 a.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the first time an NFL cheerleader knelt during the national anthem. Two cheerleaders for the 49ers did so last December; Thursday night was not the first time.

Erik Ortiz

Erik Ortiz is an NBC News staff writer focusing on racial injustice and social inequality.

Todd Johnson

Todd Johnson is the editorial director of NBC News' African-American section, NBCBLK.

Ethan Sacks

Ethan Sacks writes for NBCNews.com.