Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Phil Helsel

Several NFL players took a knee, raised their fists or stayed off the field as the national anthem played before preseason games on Thursday, protests which last year were attacked by President Donald Trump and which spawned a league policy that was criticized by some as a capitulation.

One of those players was Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who raised a fist during the anthem before the team’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, NBC Sports reported.

The NFL champion Eagles famously had a White House visit canceled by Trump in June after it became clear many players would not attend.

"Before we enjoy this game lets take some time to ponder that more than 60% of the prison population are people of color," Jenkins said in a tweet before Thursday's game, in which the Eagles lost 14-31. "The NFL is made up of 70% African Americans. What you witness on the field does not represent the reality of everyday America. We are the anomalies..." he said.

Miami Dolphins' wide receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson kneeled during the anthem, and defensive end Robert Quinn stood and raised his right fist during the team’s exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to NBC Miami.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began the protest of not standing during the anthem in 2016 in what he said was a gesture on behalf of people who were oppressed because of their race, in a tweet Thursday thanked Stills and Wilson for taking a knee.

Trump last year attacked players who refused to stand for the national anthem. In May the NFL announced a policy that all players who were on the field when the national anthem is heard must stand, or could remain in the locker room without penalty, but the policy was later put on hold.

In July, the NFL Players Association and the league said in a joint statement that they agreed to halt enforcement of rules regarding the new national anthem policy while the two sides work on a resolution.

The NFLPA said in late July that it and the league concluded a "constructive meeting regarding the anthem policy and the very serious social justice issues that have been the basis of some players' protests" and that it was encouraged by the discussions and planned to continue conversations with the league.

There were a dozen NFL preseason games on Thursday. Jacksonville Jaguars players Telvin Smith, Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon remained in the tunnel when the national anthem played before the team's home game against the New Orleans Saints, the Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville reported.

Smith, a linebacker, said after the game that "I've got beliefs and I did what I did. I don't know if it’s going to be every week. But as a man, I’ve got to stand for something," according to the newspaper.

Seattle Seahawks' left tackle Duane Brown and defensive linemen Quinton Jefferson and Branden Jackson stayed in the locker room and were not on the field during the anthem before the Seahawks’ game against the Indianapolis Colts, according to the Seattle Times. All three knelt during the anthem last season, the newspaper reported.

Miami Dolphins defensive end Robert Quinn (94) raises his right fist during the singing of the national anthem, before the team's NFL preseason football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in Miami Gardens, Fla on Aug. 9, 2018.Wilfredo Lee / AP

Trump in September of 2017 sparked players’ protests across the NFL when he said at a campaign rally in Alabama: "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired.'"

NFL players reacted bykneeling during the anthem or linking arms, and some players refused to take the field during the national anthem.

More recently, Trump was criticized for insulting the intelligence of NBA superstar LeBron James after James, who was being interviewed by CNN's Don Lemon about the Ohio school for at-risk youth that James launched, said that he thinks the president is trying to use sports to divide the country.

Kaepernick remains an unsigned free agent, and he filed a grievance last fall against the NFL and its owners, accusing them of colluding against him.

Former 49ers safety Eric Reid also has not been signed by a team, and in May the players union filed a grievance against the league on his behalf, alleging that he remains unsigned as a result of collusion by owners, according to The Associated Press. The former Pro Bowler joined Kaepernick, his teammate at the time, in kneeling during the national anthem.

Associated Press contributed.