Several members of the Baltimore Ravens knelt during the national anthem before Sunday's game at Wembley Stadium, but opponents of the protests have singled out one demonstrator in particular: 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis.
Lewis retired from the NFL in early 2013, but he remains involved with the Ravens organization. The future Hall of Famer was on the sideline on Sunday, joining a slew of current players who were protesting President Donald Trump's recent criticisms of the NFL and its players.
While some applauded Lewis for his actions, others weren't pleased at the perceived disrespect for the American flag. In response, Ravens fan Eric Moniodis started an online petition asking team owner Steve Bisciotti to remove the statue of Lewis that sits outside Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.
The petition had reached over 53,000 signatures as of Thursday morning.
"I want the Ray Lewis statue at Ravens Stadium removed because of his refusal to stand during the National Anthem," the petition begins. "That song honors our country and our veterans who fought for it. To kneel during it is disrespectful, regardless of what you are protesting."
Ray Lewis through his career
Ray Lewis through his career
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2000: Baltimore Ravens' Ray Lewis, named the game's MVP, celebrates after his team crushed the New York Giants, 34-7, at the Raymond James Stadum in Tampa to win Super Bowl XXXV. (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2000: Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis shows off his tattoos as he meets the media at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Lewis made it plain he came to talk about football on Media Day, not his role in a murder case last year. The Ravens face the New York Giants at the stadium Sunday in Super Bowl XXXV. (Photo by Howard Earl Simmons/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2000: Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl MVP Ray Lewis laughs during news conference at the Marriott Hotel in Tampa, the day after the Ravens beat the New York Giants to win Super Bowl XXXV. (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NFL Baltimore Ravens All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis (L), stands with attorney Max Richardson (R), on February 1 to answer to charges of murder at Atlanta Municipal Court February 1. Lewis is charged with two counts of murder and felony murder for the double stabbing deaths of two men in the Buckhead district of Atlanta just hours after the Super Bowl. The case was continued until February 24th and Lewis' attorney Max Richardson stated the player was "at the scene of the crime but had nothing to do with the murders".
UNDATE FILE PHOTO - Baltmore Ravens all-pro linebacker Ray Lewis is shown in this undated team file picture February 11. Fulton County, Georgia district attorney Paul Howard said arrest warrants have been issued for Reginald Oakley of Baltimore and Joseph Sweeting of Miami, listed as active participants with Lewis in the January 31 stabbing deaths of two men at a popular Atlanta nightclub. Lewis, Oakley, and Sweeting will be indicted for murder, according to the Fulton County district attorney's office.
Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell (L) listens as Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis makes his first public statement February 17 since being indicted along with two others on murder and assault charges stemming from the deaths of two men in Atlanta January 31. Lewis said that he was innocent of the charges, and he thanked his family, teammates, and fans for their support.
NFL star Ray Lewis pleads guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice, June 5, under an agreement that drops murder charges in the stabbing deaths of two men outside a Super Bowl party in Atlanta in January. Lewis, seen with his defense attorneys Ed Garland, (L), and Don Samuel (R), struck a plea bargain with the district attorney's office for the lower charge in exchange for his testimony against the other two co-defendants for the Buckhead double homicide. Lewis was in Fulton Superior Court making his plea to Judge Alice Bonner.
Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis smiles as he jogs on the field during the first day of mini-camp at the teams' training facility, June 12. It marked the first time Lewis was back in uniform on the practice field with the team since having murder charges against him dropped in connection with a double murder in Atlanta after the Super Bowl.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Doug Pederson (18) tries in vain to escape the blitz of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis in the second quarter of their game at PSINet Stadium in Baltimore November 26, 2000.
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis celebrates while walking off the field after the Ravens defeated the Tennessee Titans 24-10 in Adelphia Coliseum in their AFC Divisional Playoff game, January 7, 2001. Lewis scored his first career touchdown on a key fourth quarter interception off Titans quarterback Steve McNair, leading the Ravens to victory. AL
Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis is swarmed by the media at Raymond James Stadium during Super Bowl media day in Tampa, Florida, January 23, 2001. Lewis, the NFL's defensive player of the year, was the object of intense questioning concerning his brush with the law last year. PJ/HB
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis sits on the bench late in the fourth quarter as the Ravens fall to the Cleveland Browns 20-3 at Cleveland Browns Stadium September 12, 2004. REUTERS/Ron Schwane RS
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis runs onto the field as he is introduced before the Baltimore Ravens AFC Divisional NFL playoff football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Baltimore, January 13, 2007. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer (UNITED STATES)
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis (facing camera) hugs Ravens' owner Steve Bisciotti in the closing minute of the Ravens win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in their NFL football game in Baltimore, Maryland December 28, 2008. The win clinched a playoff spot for the Ravens. REUTERS/Joe Giza (UNITED STATES)
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis yells at the officials in the fourth quarter of their NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts October 4, 2009. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES SPORT FOOTBALL)
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis (R) knocks Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning on his back during the first quarter of their NFL football game in Baltimore, Maryland, November 22, 2009. Manning completed a pass on the play. REUTERS/Molly Riley (UNITED STATES SPORT FOOTBALL)
Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed (R) and linebacker Ray Lewis watch the last minutes of the Raven's win over the Kansas City Chiefs in their AFC Wild Card NFL playoff football game in Kansas City, Missouri January 9, 2011. Reed's younger brother, Brian Reed, has been missing since January 7, when it was reported that he jumped into the Mississippi River following a police pursuit. REUTERS/Dave Kaup (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (R) speaks with Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis after the Ravens defeated the Broncos in their NFL AFC Divisional playoff football game in Denver, Colorado January 12, 2013. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis speaks to journalists during Media Day for the NFL's Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, Louisiana January 29, 2013. The San Francisco 49ers will meet the Ravens in the game on February 3. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Baltimore Ravens' Ray Lewis (52) hugs teammate Chris Johnson (L) as they celebrate their win over the New England Patriots in the NFL AFC Championship football game in Foxborough, Massachusetts, January 20, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis celebrates with the Vince Lombardi trophy after the Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers to win the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 3, 2013. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis celebrates beside San Francisco 49ers guard Mike Iupati after the 49ers failed to score during the fourth quarter in the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 3, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Former NFL player Ray Lewis (R) and his son Ray Lewis III watch Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference final basketball playoff between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers in Miami, Florida May 24, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Skipper (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL FOOTBALL)
Former Baltimore Ravens great Ray Lewis gestures to fans as he is inducted into the team's Ring of Honor during halftime of their NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Baltimore, Maryland September 22, 2013. REUTERS/Richard Clement (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 7: ESPN personality Ray Lewis looks on before a game between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys at FedExField on December 7, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 13: (L to R) Former professional football player Jim Brown, former professional football player Ray Lewis, and Pastor Darrell Scott speak to reporters at Trump Tower, December 13, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 29: Jerome Bettis (L) and Ray Lewis pose with the tophy after the AFC defeated the NFC 20 to 13 during the NFL Pro Bowl at the Orlando Citrus Bowl on January 29, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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Despite his decision to kneel, Lewis has insisted that he wasn't actually protesting anything — he recently told Baltimore's 105.7 that he's "not in the protesting business." On "Inside the NFL," the two-time Defensive Player of the Year stated that his gesture had a more spiritual meaning.
"I didn’t drop on one knee in order to protest. ... I dropped on two knees — both knees — so I can simply honor God in the midst of chaos," he said.
But that explanation wasn't good enough for Moniodis, who views Lewis' actions as indefensible.
"A legend is a hero both on and off the field, and by disgracing this great country by kneeling during the National Anthem, on foreign soil no less, [Lewis] has lost the respect of myself and many of my peers who used to see him in a different light," Moniodis wrote. "He has soiled the name Ravens, the city of Baltimore, the State of Maryland, and the greatest country on earth, the USA."
With the movement to remove the Lewis statue gaining steam, the Ravens have increased security in the area, according to The Baltimore Sun.
"There is additional security at the statue plaza at this time," said Maryland Stadium Authority spokesperson Rachelina Bonacci. "Certainly observers can notice the presence of uniformed security officers at M&T Bank Stadium, which includes the statue plaza. The additional officers and other security enhancements have been in place since Sunday afternoon."
Lewis played 17 seasons for the Ravens, leading one of the most fearsome defenses in NFL history. He won a pair of Super Bowls in the 2000 and 2012 seasons.
It seems the Ravens are committed to protecting the Lewis statue, but judging from fan reactions, the protest controversy doesn't look like it's going to die down any time soon. The team will play its next home game this Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.