JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Telvin Smith knew the questions were coming. He and three of his Jacksonville Jaguars teammates stayed in the locker room during the national anthem on Thursday in the Jaguars’ first preseason game of the year. Reporters wanted answers. So after signing autographs for two small children bearing Florida State helmets at his locker, Smith spoke.
“As a man I got certain beliefs,” he said. “This is not going to become a distraction in Jacksonville, this is not going to be a distraction for this team. I got beliefs, I did what I did. I don’t know if it’s gonna be every week. I can’t answer if it’s going to be every week. As a man I gotta stand for something. I love my team, I’m dedicated to my teammates and that’s what we’re talking about. I did what I did. It was love. I hope people see and respect it. I respect different views. I love the military. I wore my Salute to Service cleats today. It’s love.”
And that was it. He refused to answer any other questions about his decision.
Jalen Ramsey did not show up immediately at his locker after the game. T.J. Yeldonsaid he “didn’t want to come out.” Asked whether he didn’t want to come out for the anthem, he let out a sigh and said an almost inaudible, “Yeah,” Leonard Fournette said, “it’s a personal thing, man. Don’t really want to get into it. Everyone has their own beliefs in certain things.” He then started speaking about the game, a loss to the New Orleans Saints. When he was pressed, he said, “I ain’t really trying to get into it.” Asked again, he said, “It’s something I believe in and I ain’t really trying to get into it.”
And that was it.
It has been two years, almost to the day, since then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem of a preseason game. Nearly two weeks later, he spoke about why:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Since then, the NFL has struggled mightily to figure out how to deal with the fallout. There have been individual protests and team protests. There has been a president calling a protesting player a “son of a bitch” deserving of a suspension. There have been shows of philanthropy, defiance and silence. And this summer, there has been a Miami Dolphins threat to suspend players who protest, which was later rescinded and left to the league to decide. It is unclear what penalty, if any, will be levied for players who protest during the regular season. Perhaps there will be no penalty. In a statement Thursday, the league announced it would “delay implementing or enforcing any club work rules that could result in players being disciplined for their conduct during the performance of the anthem.”
LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 16: Wide receiver Trey Quinn #14 of the Washington Redskins is tackled by wide receiver Charone Peake #17 of the New York Jets as he returns a punt in the third quarter of a preseason game at FedExField on August 16, 2018 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 16: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers drops back to pass during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field on August 16, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - AUGUST 16: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) embraces New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan (15) during the second quarter. The New England Patriots host the Philadelphia Eagles in the second pre-season home exhibition game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA on Aug. 16, 2018. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 16: L.J. Fort #54 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates a sack against the Green Bay Packers during the fourth quarter of a preseason game at Lambeau Field on August 16, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 16: Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the Washington Redskins and quarterback Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets talk after the Redskins defeated the Jets 15-13 of a preseason game at FedExField on August 16, 2018 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Miami Dolphins receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson kneel during the national anthem as they prepare to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. The Bucs won, 26-24. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - AUGUST 9 : The New England Patriots and the Washington Redskins face off during their preseason game at Gillette Stadium on August 9, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Aug 9, 2018; Seattle, WA, USA; Members of the Indianapolis Colts stand during the national anthem before a game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 09: Malcolm Jenkins #27 of the Philadelphia Eagles raises his fist during the national anthem as Chris Long #56 puts his arm around him prior to the preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field on August 9, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Eagles 31-14. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - AUGUST 09: New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) lines up wide during a preseason NFL game between the New England Patriots and the Washington Redskins on August 9, 2018, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Redskins 26-17. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 09: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs throws a pass down field during the first half against the Houston Texans on August 9, 2018 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 09: Marcus Mariota #8 of the Tennessee Titans looks to pass during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on August 9, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 09: Darius Jennings #15 of the Tennessee Titans catches a pass for a touchdown in front of Blake Martinez #50 of the Green Bay Packers during the first quarter of a preseason game at Lambeau Field on August 9, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - AUGUST 9: Washington Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy (12), left, hits running back Byron Marshall (34) for a 1st quarter touchdown pass during a pre-season game between the Washington Redskins and the New England Patriots in at Gillette Stadium Foxborough, MA on August 9, 2018. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 09: Eagles QB Joe Callahan (3) loses the football while being brought down by Steelers LB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (92) during the NFL Preseason game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 09: Steelers WR Damoun Patterson (83) checks in at the line during the NFL Preseason game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Chad Henne throws in the second quarter against the Houston Texans on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images)
Aug 9, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Mike Gillislee (35) rushes against the Washington Redskins during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 9, 2018; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Rod Smith (45) carries the ball against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 9, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Christian Scotland-Williamson (49) is hit by Philadelphia Eagles linebacker LaRoy Reynolds (50) in the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 9, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Ralph Webb (22) dives for the two point conversion against the Washington Redskins during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 9, 2018; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive back Elijah Campbell (43) watches New York Giants running back Jalen Simmons (34) fly through the air on a tackle by defensive back Montrel Meander (30) (not pictured) during second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 09: Houston Texans huddle during the NFL preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs on August 9, 2018 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ORCHARD PARK, NY - AUGUST 09: Jermaine Carter #56 of the Carolina Panthers sacks Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills during the second half at New Era Field on August 9, 2018 in Orchard Park, New York. Carolina defeats Buffalo in the preseason game 28-23. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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Is an explanation necessary?
These four Jaguars made their own statement and decided not to explain it. In one sense, it’s powerful. They feel they do not need to account for their choice. As Smith said, “As a man I gotta stand for something.”
But in another sense their lack of an explanation will allow vehement critics to deride them for not explaining their viewpoint. If you’re going to take that kind of stand, don’t you have to explain what it is you stand for? Otherwise what kind of stand is it? Saying you have “beliefs” begs for explanation, especially on a topic this polarizing. What beliefs? Beliefs about the police? About race relations? About the president? All of the above?
This is the catch-22 for protesting players: hold their tongues and risk derision for not putting words to their feelings; or speak out and risk derision for whatever they say.
Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone said he didn’t even know the players had remained in the locker room until after the game: “I think I made clear that, for me, I’m always going to stand with my hand on my heart and I think that the people that don’t, then they’ve got to answer to it, to the media.”
The players didn’t really answer to it. Should they?
No one is going to change their mind on this topic at this point. So why allow the media to edit their words? Why not make this truly a personal decision by keeping the specific reasons personal? Kaepernick’s two-year-old statement, in some sense, covers everyone who is kneeling or raising a fist or staying in the locker room to protest police brutality. He no longer has a job in this league, so it falls to the players who still do.
There were other protests on Thursday that included the Eagles. But this is a military town. The team owner here, Shad Khan, was a donor to President Trump’s campaign. Ramsey and Fournette are emerging superstars, with jersey sales through the roof. Doing what they did in “Bold City” was bold, even if you hate it. And surely the president will hate it.
What will Donald Trump do? What will Roger Goodell do? What will Marrone do?
Maybe it doesn’t matter what anyone else says. This was the players’ statement, without any words, and it was loud enough and clear enough for them.