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Singer kneels while performing anthem at Miami NBA game

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A singer knelt while performing the national anthem at a Miami Heat basketball game on Friday and opened her jacket to reveal a shirt that read "Black Lives Matter," a variation on a protest that has punctuated many U.S. sporting events since the summer.

Like other anthem protests, the gesture by Denasia Lawrence was intended to highlight what activists say is unfair police treatment of minorities. The trend began in August when San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the playing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" before a preseason National Football League game.

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Lawrence, a social worker, wrote on Facebook that the opportunity at the preseason Heat game "was bigger than me."

"Right now, we're seeing a war on Black & Brown bodies - we're being unjustly killed and overly criminalized," she continued. "I took the opportunity to sing AND kneel; to show that we belong in this country AND that we have the right to respectfully protest injustices against us. I took the opportunity to sing AND kneel to show that, I too, am America."

In a statement, the Heat said, "We were unaware of it ahead of time."

Lawrence was not the first anthem singer to take a knee. Leah Tysse knelt while singing before a preseason Sacramento Kings game two weeks ago.

Kaepernick's silent protest ignited a fierce national debate over whether refusing to stand during the anthem is disrespectful to the country and its military or a political expression that goes to the heart of the U.S. constitutional guarantee of free speech.

Other players in various sports, both at the professional and amateur levels, have taken up the protest, with some raising their fists in a move that recalls a famous gesture by U.S. track and field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

The Heat players and coaches stood and locked arms during the anthem as they have done throughout the preseason as a show of unity.

"Throughout all of this, I think the most important thing that has come out of this is a very poignant, thoughtful dialogue," said head coach Erik Spoelstra after his team lost to the Philadelphia 76ers. "We've had great dialogue within our walls here, and hopefully this will lead to action."

13 PHOTOS
Colin Kaepernick and more pro athletes protesting during the national anthem
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Colin Kaepernick and more pro athletes protesting during the national anthem
SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers kneels in protest during the national anthem prior to playing the Los Angeles Rams in their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on September 12, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 02: (L-R) Rashard Robinson #33, Antoine Bethea #41, and Jaquiski Tartt #29 of the San Francisco 49ers raise their fists in protest during the national anthem prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Brandon Marshall #54 of the Denver Broncos takes a knee in protest during the National Anthem before the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.The Broncos defeated the Bengals 29-17. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Duane Brown #76 of the Houston Texans raises his fist during the national anthem before the game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 18: Kenny Stills #10 of the Miami Dolphins (C) kneels during the national anthem before the game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Philadelphia Eagles players Steven Means (51), Malcolm Jenkins (27) and Ron Brooks (33) raise their fists in the air during the national anthem for a game against the Chicago Bears on Monday, Sept. 19, 2016 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
USA's Megan Rapinoe, right, kneels next to teammates Samanth Mewis (20) Christen Press (12), Ali Krieger (11), Crystal Dunn (16) and Ashlyn Harris (22) as the US national anthem is played before an exhibition soccer match against Netherlands Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016 file photo, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, middle, kneels during the national anthem before the team's NFL preseason football game against the San Diego Chargers, in San Diego. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell disagrees with Kaepernick's choice to kneel during the national anthem, but recognizes the quarterback's right to protest. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)
Sep 8, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos inside linebacker Brandon Marshall (54) kneels during the national anthem next to defensive end Jared Crick (93) and defensive tackle Billy Winn (97) and defensive tackle Adam Gotsis (99) before the game against the Carolina Panthers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
From left, Miami Dolphins' Jelani Jenkins, Arian Foster, Michael Thomas, and Kenny Stills, kneel during the singing of the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: Kenny Britt #18 and Robert Quinn #94 of the Los Angeles Rams raise their fists in protest prior to playing the San Francisco 49ers in their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on September 12, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Phoenix Mercury's Kelsey Bone, right, and Mistie Bass, second from right, kneel during the playing of the national anthem before the start of a first round WNBA playoff basketball game against the Indiana Fever, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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