Super Bowl opens with protest-free Star Spangled Banner

MINNEAPOLIS, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Super Bowl players avoided controversy on Sunday as none of them knelt in protest during the national anthem, sparing the National Football League a story that might overshadow the championship game.

MINNEAPOLIS, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Super Bowl Sunday turned out to be a bye week for on-field protests, with none of the players kneeling or raising a fist during the national anthem, allowing the NFL's biggest day to unfold without the season's most polarizing issue at center stage.

SEE ALSO: Trump takes a thinly veiled shot at NFL protests in presidential message prior to Super Bowl

The absence of protests before the game pleased many fans, who either saw the kneeling players as being disrespectful to the flag and the military, or were simply sick of the season-long rancor over the protests over racial injustice.

"I'm glad they stood for the anthem," said Kelly Erickson, an Eagles fan who traveled to Minneapolis from her hometown Philadelphia.

"It's not appropriate," she said, referring to the protests that began in 2016 with former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick and were joined by dozens of players around the league this season.

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Pink performs the national anthem at the Super Bowl
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Pink performs the national anthem at the Super Bowl
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Pink sings the national anthem prior to Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Recording artist Pink sings the US National Anthem before the start of Super Bowl LII between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots at US Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Pink sings the National Anthem prior to Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Recording artist Pink sings the US National Anthem before the start of Super Bowl LII between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots at US Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Recording artist Pink sings the US National Anthem before the start of Super Bowl LII between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots at US Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. / AFP PHOTO / ANGELA WEISS (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images)
Recording artist Pink sings the US National Anthem before the start of Super Bowl LII between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots at US Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Pink performs the national anthem prior to kickoff of Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Pink sings the national anthem prior to Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Recording artist Pink sings the US National Anthem before the start of Super Bowl LII between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots at US Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. / AFP PHOTO / ANGELA WEISS (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Pink sings the national anthem prior to Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Pink sings the national anthem prior to Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Recording artist Pink sings the US National Anthem before the start of Super Bowl LII between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots at US Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Pink sings the national anthem prior to Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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President Donald Trump, for one, was a harsh critic of the pre-game gesture, heaping scorn on the protesting players and the league for allowing them to go unpunished.

But others were disappointed that the Eagles and Patriots did not kneel during the Star Spangled Banner, performed by the singer Pink, as they were hoping to see the issue of police treatment of minorities pushed to the forefront on the most visible stage in American sports.

"All eyes are here," said Mel Reeves, a Minneapolis civil rights activist who organized a two-day "Take a Knee" conference that culminated in a protest rally Sunday outside U.S. Bank Stadium. "When the players are doing it, people have to pay attention to the issue."

But the wave of protests started to fizzle late in the season when the National Football League said it would donate $89 million over seven years to social justice causes as part of an effort to end the on-field demonstrations.

Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who has previously raised his fist above his head, was one of those who stopped his protests.

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Super Bowl LII pregame moments
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Super Bowl LII pregame moments
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) who is out for the season with an injury, throws on the field before today's game. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: Willie McGinest, who was part of the victorious New England team that beat the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX and is currently an analyst for the NFL Network, walks around four and a half hours before kickoff during a break in the network's telecast. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN on Feb. 04, 2018. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: Just as they do before every game, more than three hours before kickoff, New England Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores (front), wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea (center) and defensive line coach Brendan Daly (rear) were in the stands running the stairs among the fans. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN on Feb. 04, 2018. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: An early arriving New England Patriots fan records the scene, alone in a sea of purple seats. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN on Feb. 04, 2018. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: Bill Yetman, of Attleboro, Mass., takes a picture of friend Ken Swerdlick, from Conn. before Super Bowl LII. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018. (Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: People skate outside US Bank Stadium before Super Bowl LII. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018. (Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: Fans stream into US Bank Stadium before Super Bowl LII. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018. (Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: US Bank Stadium before the game. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018. (Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General View inside US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: The control room at US Bank Stadium. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018. (Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General View outside US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General View outside US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Not Done Patriots towels are given to fans outside US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Fly Eagles Fly towels are given to fans outside US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General View inside US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Fly Eagles Fly towels are given to fans outside US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Fly Eagles Fly towels are given to fans outside US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General View outside US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General view of fans walking into US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General View outside US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General View outside US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General View outside US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General view of fans walking into US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General View outside US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General View outside US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General View outside US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: New England Patriots fans get into the act taking photos before the start of today's game. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: New England Patriots fans get into the act taking photos before the start of today's game. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: Smoke inside and outside as temperature hovers near zero. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018. (Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 04: People pass by Philadelphia Police Department railings seen along Board Street as security measure for Super Bowl LII fans on February 4, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia police department is using gear oil to grease up the poles on downtown streets to minimize the damage that fans can do to the city and themselves in the aftermath of the Super Bowl LII that will be played between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.(Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: A Philadelphia Eagles fan soars before the start of the Super Bowl while morale is high for fans. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018. (Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: A New England Patriot fan heads toward the US Bank Stadium with the temperature at 3 degrees before Super Bowl LII. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018. (Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 04: People pass by Philadelphia Police Department railings seen along Broad Street as security measure for Super Bowl LII fans on February 4, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia police department is using gear oil to grease up the poles on downtown streets to minimize the damage that fans can do to the city and themselves in the aftermath of the Super Bowl LII that will be played between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.(Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 04: People pass by Philadelphia Police Department railings seen along Broad Street as security measure for Super Bowl LII fans on February 4, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia police department is using gear oil to grease up the poles on downtown streets to minimize the damage that fans can do to the city and themselves in the aftermath of the Super Bowl LII that will be played between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.(Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 04: People pass by Philadelphia Police Department railings seen along Broad Street as security measure for Super Bowl LII fans on February 4, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia police department is using gear oil to grease up the poles on downtown streets to minimize the damage that fans can do to the city and themselves in the aftermath of the Super Bowl LII that will be played between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.(Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 04: Philadelphia Police Department railings seen along Broad Street as security measure for Super Bowl LII fans on February 4, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia police department is using gear oil to grease up the poles on downtown streets to minimize the damage that fans can do to the city and themselves in the aftermath of the Super Bowl LII that will be played between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.(Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 04: A woman passes next to Philadelphia Police Department railings seen along Broad Street as security measure for Super Bowl LII fans on February 4, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia police department is using gear oil to grease up the poles on downtown streets to minimize the damage that fans can do to the city and themselves in the aftermath of the Super Bowl LII that will be played between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.(Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
Philadelphia Eagles fans await the start of Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Philadelphia Eagles fans await the start of Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Philadelphia Eagles fans await the start of Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Philadelphia Eagles fans await the start of Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Philadelphia Eagles fans await the start of Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Philadelphia Eagles fans await the start of Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General view outside of US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General view outside of US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General view outside of US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A General view outside of US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 04: A mock memorial set up with a casket calling the Philadelphia Eagles a deceased team along Route 1A on February 4, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots will face the Philadelphia Eagles in Superbowl LII. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 04: New England Patriots fans stand in front of a mock memorial set up with a casket calling the Philadelphia Eagles a deceased team along Route 1A on February 4, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots will face the Philadelphia Eagles in Superbowl LII. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A general exterior view of the stadium prior to Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 04: A mock memorial set up with a casket calling the Philadelphia Eagles a deceased team along Route 1A on February 4, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots will face the Philadelphia Eagles in Superbowl LII. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A general exterior view of the stadium prior to Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Fans walk toward the stadium prior to Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
NFL Football - Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots - Super Bowl LII - U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. - February 4, 2018. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft before the game. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
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Still, Trump stirred the issue anew last week during his State of the Union address. As the season was getting underway, he said any player who protests is a "son of a bitch" who should be removed from the field, and criticized NFL owners for failing to take action.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has praised the protesters as concerned activists and said the league should work with them to address their concerns, which include the use of lethal force against minorities and racial disparities in the justice system.

Trump declined to be interviewed for the Super Bowl broadcast as some previous presidents have, NBC said.

Inside U.S. Bank Stadium, some fans said they were relieved that politics did not intrude before the Super Bowl.

But a few blocks away, several dozen protesters held signs with the word “kneel” and briefly knelt together to protest police violence against black people.

The NFL has suffered from falling viewership ratings this season and some have said that the controversy over the protests may have contributed to a decline.

The NFL Players Association has disputed that, but a recent CNBC poll found that a quarter of respondents who said they would not watch the Super Bowl on Sunday said the reason was that football had become too political.

Greenville, South Carolina, restaurant owner David McCraw told Reuters he would refuse to show Sunday's game at his establishment because the protests were still allowed.

"It's disrespectful," he said.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Frank McGurty and Susan Thomas)

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