Ben Carson says NFL players should explain why they kneel. But they already have.

The secretary of housing and urban development says his approach would "solve the problem" of people talking past one another.
Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers
Eric Reid, left, Colin Kaepernick and Eli Harold of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sideline during the national anthem before a game against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Jan. 1, 2017. Michael Zagaris / Getty Images file

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By Allan Smith

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said Sunday that there would be greater understanding and less backlash if NFL players made it clear that they were kneeling to protest police brutality, not to disrespect the military or the flag.

But NFL players have made that point over and over again in the years since quarterback Colin Kaepernick, then of the San Francisco 49ers, began the national anthem protests in 2016.

"My personal feeling is if those players were to come out and say we love our nation, we are patriots, we love our flag, we honor the memory of those who died to give us our freedom, but we are protesting some of the brutality that has occurred, and that's why we're doing this, I think it would solve the problem," Carson said on CNN's "State of the Union." "And I suggest that they do that."

Carson said the controversy over kneeling protests amounted to "two people in a vehement argument" talking past each other.

The kneeling movement began in the 2016 preseason when Kaepernick sat down during the national anthem. He switched to kneeling after having spoken with former NFL long snapper Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret, who said kneeling was a better way to present the message without disrespecting the military or the flag.

Since then, NFL players, including Kaepernick, have repeatedly made it clear that the protests are meant as no disrespect to the military but are intended to highlight police brutality.

"We hate that people are going to see it that we don't respect the military, the men and women that are braver than us that go and put their life on the line," NFL defensive back Devin McCourty said in 2017 after President Donald Trump blasted those who knelt. "But we just wanted to send a message of unity and being together and not standing for the disrespect. ... All of us want to send a message of unity, not just as a team but a fraternity of NFL players."

Julius Peppers, then an NFL defensive lineman, said in 2017, "I want to get one thing clear: This was not about disrespecting the military, disrespecting the flag, police, first responders, none of that."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized to players Friday for not having listened to their concerns about police brutality earlier.

"We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people," he said. "We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all players to speak out and peacefully protest."

Meanwhile, Trump said last week that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees should not have apologized for his anti-kneeling comments, saying, "We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart." He added, "NO KNEELING!"

Full coverage of George Floyd's death and protests around the country

Brees responded to Trump in an Instagram post, saying he now realized that "this is not an issue about the American flag" and "has never been."

"We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform," he said.

Kneeling has been a visible element of the protests following George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody as instances of protesters getting police to take knees have gone viral online.

The president's campaign sent out an anti-kneeling email to supporters Saturday. On Sunday, Trump retweeted a photo showing former Vice President Joe Biden taking a knee that read: "Cowards kneel."