A trio of New York Giants could no longer stick to sports on Sunday afternoon.
Prior to the team’s heartbreaking 27-24 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, three prominent members of the Giants defense–safety Landon Collins and defensive linemen Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon–took a knee during the pregame performance of the National Anthem while the rest of the team including coaches and staff stood behind them arms intertwined in solidarity.
“It’s a family thing over here. I’m not going to let a bud take a knee by himself,” Collins said after the game. “We love our country to death. But at the same time, we respect each other, and we have a family over here. We’re going to fight for each other.”
Vernon, the son of immigrants–his father is a retired police officer who was born in Jamaica and his mother was born in Switzerland–said he was simply exercising his First Amendment rights.
“I had a lot of patience from last year with what was going on. I respect this nation, this country,” Vernon said. “All these remarks just built up. (Saturday night), just hearing that just struck a chord.”
Anthem protests took center stage in the NFL this weekend after President Donald Trump at an Alabama rally supporting Senator Luther Strange, opined that any athlete who takes a knee during the National Anthem should be fired.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now? Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said.
Trump’s sentiments, which were compounded by follow up tweets in which he continued to take aim at the NFL, weren’t well received across the league, where some teams such as the Steelers and the Seahawks refused to come to the sideline during the National Anthem during their respective games.
“Sports is something that brings this country together,” Collins said. “White, black, Hispanic…any color that you are, it brings us together. You look into the crowd, you almost got every race in the crowd. It brings us together, and we fight on together.”
While Collins would not comment on whether the President’s comments had an effect on his protest, Vernon was spoke calmly but from the heart about his decision.
“(Me and my father) have talked on multiple occasions about what’s going on in this country, and he knows its not right,” Vernon said.
“So I did what was necessary, and what’s fair is fair. If you can protest something that’s non-violent and make a stand for something, what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with acting on the First Amendment? Freedom of Speech? I don’t understand what’s the problem with that.”
The Giants defensive end added that he wasn’t afraid of any backlash his action might bring.
“Nobody scares me,” Vernon said. “I’ve played this game, I’ve been raised the right way. I know what’s right and what’s wrong. Ain’t nobody will ever scare me. I don’t care if you’re the President or not. He ain’t my President. So that’s what it is.”
Harrison declined to speak with reporters after the game, but he did offer a statement via his Twitter account.
Took a knee with my hand over my heart to respect the men & women of service, past & present. Also with the realities of America in mind. pic.twitter.com/c4NqPUteO0
— Damon Harrison Sr. (@snacks) September 24, 2017
Collins and Vernon were noncommittal when asked if they planned to continue their protests beyond this week.
Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch were among the first NFL owners to issue a statement supporting the players following Trump’s sentiments, calling the President’s comments “inappropriate, offensive and divisive.”
They also stated they were “proud” of their players, praising them for using “their NFL platform to make a positive difference in society.”