4 Jaguars players stay in locker room for anthem as preseason begins

NFL players kneel, raise fists or sit out National Anthem

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, DAVID CLOSE AND KEVIN DOTSON, CNN

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The first full slate of preseason games kicked off Thursday night, bringing NFL players back into the field for more football and more protests.

Several players took a knee, raised fists or did not take to the field while the National Anthem was played before a dozen preseason games began across the country.

At TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, there were no visible protests, although Jaguars players Leonard Fournette, Jalen Ramsey, Telvin Smith and T.J. Yeldon chose to stay in the locker room.

It’s a personal thing and I don’t want to get into it, but everyone has their own beliefs in certain things," Fournette said after the game.

Yeldon said he "just didn't want to come out" during the anthem. Ramsey was no longer in the locker room when reporters entered after the game.

Smith offered the most insight, but declined to answer specific questions.

"As a man, I got certain beliefs," said Smith, who wore "Salute the Service" cleats. "You know what I mean? This is not going to become a distraction, and Jacksonville's not going to become a distraction for this team. I got beliefs. I did what I did. I don't know if it's going to be every week, can't answer if it's going to be every week.

"But, as a man, I've got to 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 it and respect it. I respect views," Smith said.

Head coach Doug Marrone said he didn't even know that four of his players sat out the anthem until he was asked about it later.

"The only thing I can say is that the NFL and the NFLPA (players union) are obviously working together on it.  I don’t know if ... to my knowledge, there’s nothing out there right now on what the players can do," Marrone said. "I think I made it 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.”

WATCH: Veterans, fans share their thoughts on NFL anthem protests

Inside the Five Star Veterans Center in Jacksonville, there are men and women who’ve spent much of their lives serving the country. The veterans have different opinions about the issue.

"I miss the times when it was an automatic and there was no debate," Navy combat veteran Sergio Grajeda said. 

Navy veteran Chris Cummings also weighed in on the demonstrations across the NFL. 

"It is aggravating. I wish they would take it more seriously. It’s not that long of time but it means something," Cummings said. "Everybody’s gonna have to learn to live with it, I guess. But is that the place for it? I don’t think so. No."

Veteran Danny Regal, a barber at Set ‘n’ Trends Barbershop, believes the four Jaguars players did the right thing. Regal attended Thursday night's preseason game and said he chose not to stand up during the National Anthem because of racial injustice.

"It has nothing to do with the military. It had nothing to do with the flag. It had everything to do with social injustice and blacks being brutalized by police," Regal said. "Inequalities in this country are very real. If somebody doesn’t stand up for them, if we don’t stand up for them, they'll get overlooked. We’ll get overlooked. The reasoning will get overlooked.”

The Miami Herald reported that Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills, along with wide receiver Albert Wilson, knelt during the anthem before a home game against Tampa Bay.

WTVJ Miami reported that Dolphins defensive end Robert Quinn raised his fist during the song.

The Philadelphia Daily News reported that Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett walked out of the tunnel during the playing of the anthem and headed to the team bench. The Daily News said Eagles captain Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback De'Vante Bausby raised their fists.

President Donald Trump took notice. 

"The NFL players are at it again - taking a knee when they should be standing proudly for the National Anthem," the President tweeted Friday morning. "Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their 'outrage' at something that most of them are unable to define. They make a fortune doing what they love."

Trump continued: "Be happy, be cool! A football game, that fans are paying soooo much money to watch and enjoy, is no place to protest. Most of that money goes to the players anyway. Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!"

A dozen games were played Thursday night but it was not immediately clear how many included signs of protest.

"I think it actually puts the players in a bad situation because now they almost have to decide between a check and feeding their families, and fighting for some of their family members and some of these communities they grew up in that’s fighting this battle of social injustice," said Vedrick Dunbar, a barber at Set ‘n’ Trends Barbershop.

The NFL has said it won't punish the players who took part in the protests on Thursday, reiterating the league's decision to shelve its new policy regarding conduct surrounding the anthem until it reaches an agreement with the NFL Players Association.

The league noted that, while players won't be disciplined, it expects all players on the field to stand during the presentation of the flag and the playing of the anthem.

"Personnel who do not wish to do so can choose to remain in the locker room," the league added.

The anthem controversy has been rumbling since 2016, when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the anthem to draw attention to racial injustice.

Kaepernick tweeted Thursday night, lauding the action of two players who protested.

The debate ratcheted up a notch in 2017 when Trump said kneeling players showed "total disrespect for our great country."

After withstanding two seasons of backlash against players kneeling, raising fists and displaying other means of protest during the anthem, the NFL said it would fine teams with protesting players directly, who in turn would have it in their discretion to enforce pregame anthem observations in their own ways.

After confusion, the NFL decided to take its new policy back to the drawing board and consult with the players association.

"The NFL and NFLPA, through recent discussions, have been working on a resolution to the anthem issue," read the joint statement. "In order to allow this constructive dialogue to continue, we have come to a standstill agreement on the NFLPA's grievance and on the NFL's anthem policy."

But some veterans in Jacksonville have their own opinions.

"It is their God-given rights to take a knee," Army combat veteran Christopher Scales said. "But morally and personally, I don’t agree with it."

Grajeda said the NFL protests have changed how he watches football games.

"I choose not to watch them anymore," he said.

The veterans who News4Jax spoke with wanted to point out it’s not just some of the players who are disrespectful. They said, in the stands, fans are on their phones, eating hot dogs, drinking beer and talking during the playing of the National Anthem. They want that to change. 

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to remove a reference to 10 Giants players kneeling in the endzone. The players did this before the anthem was played and may not have been protesting the anthem. It is a common practice by some players to kneel and pray in the endzone before the anthem begins.

Copyright 2018 by WJXT/CNN NewSource.