JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Love of country and football collided over the weekend when hundreds of NFL players took a knee or stayed in the locker room during the playing of the national anthem Sunday in games from London to California.
The number increased dramatically after President Donald Trump, speaking at a political rally in Alabama on Friday, told team owners: "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. ... He's fired."
He doubled down on his comments over the weekend on Twitter.
Some Jaguars season ticket holders said they were so upset to see about a dozen of their players take a knee when the Star Spangled Banner played before the team played the Baltimore Ravens in Wembley Stadium that they wanted to cancel their tickets. It was the first time Jaguars players have collectively protested at a game, and it happened on the big stage as as the international game was nationally televised.
The Jaguars routed the Ravens 44 to 7 in London, but many people were more focused on what happened before the game.
Through the course of the day, more than 200 more NFL players either took a knee during the playing of the anthem to protest injustices in America. In fact, across the league, a few hundred players followed suit.
Team management and the NFL were also criticized by many fans after the league and owners released statements in support of player's right to protest. Shad Khan and several other owners joined players on the sidelines, linking arms during the anthem.
Some people called the players' protest disrespect for America and a slap in the face of our country and its military.
"Highly disappointing," Dan Santinga said, calling for a boycott of the team. "I think it's just lack of respect."
Other people thought the protest was appropriate.
"What is more important: Football games or a change in society?" Keshaun Gordon said.
The controversy was the main topic of conversation Monday at Center Stage Barber Shop in Regency -- a place where opposing opinions are welcome.
Proprietor Jaylen Jefferson said he wouldn't kneel "for the simple fact that I respect the United States."
A customer, Kevin Golden, a Navy veteran, had a different opinion.
"I've always felt that I've had the right to protest. As a human being, in general, I have the right," Golden said.
People critical of the players' protest were vocal on social media. Some, describing themselves as fans, military veterans and even season-ticket holders, urged a boycott the Jaguars and the NFL over the issue.
But there seemed to be just as many fans sticking with the franchise.
"I believe in this country that you have your right to have your own opinion, and if I disagree with you, that's OK," Jags fan Justin Timmon said.
Khan and the Jaguars staff were not available to talk about the controversy Monday, but Khan issued a statement Sunday saying Trump's comments were divisive and contentious. He said he was honored to stand with his team.
“I met with our team captains prior to the game to express my support for them, all NFL players and the league following the divisive and contentious remarks made by President Trump and was honored to be arm in arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during our anthem," Khan said in part.
“Our team and the National Football League reflects our nation, with diversity coming in many forms – race, faith, our views and our goals,” he continued. “We have a lot of work to do, and we can do it, but the comments by the President make it harder. That’s why it was important for us, and personally for me, to show the world that even if we may differ at times, we can and should be united in the effort to become better as people and a nation.”
Several players spoke out after Sunday's game.
"From man to man, you can't tell another grown man 'you need to stand up' or 'you need to kneel.'" Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "Obviously, you're going to do what you want to do. We wanted to put it out there as a group."
Ticket holder protest
Dan Santinga said he's been a loyal Jags fan since he moved to Jacksonville 12 years ago. His property management and leasing company buys eight season tickets each year.
"It's a pretty big expense. It's over $13,000," Santinga said.
But as of Monday, he was cutting ties with the team over the players' behavior, along with Khan and the league's support. He said he's trying to raise his 7-year-old right, and in his opinion, what's happening all across the NFL is un-American.
"Why do I have to go to football game and explain why some guys are sitting there on my knee, disrespecting the men and women that serve in this great country (who) give us the freedoms that we have? Highly disappointing," Santinga said. "They've made a choice and now I'm making a choice."
Santinga was one of several fans News4Jax found who were offering to sell their season tickets, some promising to never watch the team again.
The Jaguars staff would not discuss any backlash the team has gotten or whether it will have an effect on future ticket sales.
The Jaguars play against the Jets this weekend. Their next home game is October 15 against the Rams.
Mayor Curry: Not standing for national anthem is 'stupid'
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry broke his silence Monday on the NFL players' protests, saying it's "stupid" not to stand for the national anthem."I stand and cover my heart for the pledge and the anthem. I think it's stupid to do otherwise. The US Constitution protects the right for a lot of people to do a lot of stupid things," Curry said in a statement. "I am a Constitutional Conservative, so I respect the wisdom of our Founders. However, I am focused on storm recovery, public safety and making Jacksonville a great city."
One measure of public reaction
Lineman Alejandro Villanueva stood by himself Sunday on the Pittsburgh Steelers sidelines when the national anthem was performed. His team waited in the locker room until it was over.
Villanueva served as an Army ranger in Afghanistan.
In the 24 hours since the anthem controversy became a major national conversation, Villanueva's jersey became the top-selling one in the NFL.
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