Duke Johnson, the all-time leading rusher in Miami Hurricanes history, was one of a dozen members of the Cleveland Browns to take a knee during the national anthem before Monday’s exhibition game against the New York Giants.
In the latest pregame demonstration to help draw attention to social injustices in this country, a dozen Cleveland players — Johnson and rookie linebacker Jabrill Peppers among them — took a knee near one of the benches on the sideline.
More players, rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer was one of them, stood around the circle in support.
The silent anthem protests in the NFL were started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last preseason.
Players from the Browns said they decided their action would be to say a prayer during the anthem.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, linebacker Christian Kirksey led his teammates in the prayer.
“We did it out of respect,” Kirksey said according to ESPN.
“No disrespect for anyone, we just felt like it was the right time and the need to do it.”
Added the Plain Dealer: “If anyone was wondering what was going on in that circle, we were saying a prayer and we were just praying over the country, praying over things that we were going on, we tried to do it as respectfully as possible and we respect everything that happened with people in the military, we respect all of that,” Kirksey said. “We just felt it was the right time to do that, say a prayer, pray over this country.”
Cleveland coach Hue Jackson had said last week that he hoped players wouldn’t protest during the anthem because “it means a lot to myself personally.”
Jackson came back the next day and read from a statement saying he did not want to “discourage individual expression from our players in light of a cause that moves them to personal expression,” but still had concern about players doing so during the anthem.
Jackson said a number of Cleveland players came to him beforehand to explain what they were planning on doing.
“Those guys came to me and talked to me about it before they ever made a decision to do it,” Jackson said after the game.
At halftime, the Browns came out with a statement both supporting their players while expressing the importance of having them take part in the national anthem.
“As an organization, we have a profound respect for our country’s National Anthem, flag and the servicemen and servicewomen in the United States and abroad,” the statement read.
“We feel it's important for our team to join in this great tradition and special moment of recognition, at the same time we also respect the great liberties afforded by our country, including the freedom of personal expression.”
Said linebacker Seth DeValve: “The United States is the greatest country in the world. It is because it provides opportunities to citizens that no other country does. The issue is that it doesn't provide equal opportunity to everybody. I wanted to support my African-American teammates today who wanted to take a knee.”
Peppers, a first-round pick out of Michigan, said the players said a prayer for those affected by racial intolerance and “for the world in general.”
“There are a lot of racial and social injustices that are going on in the world right now,” so we just decided to take a knee and pray for the people who have been affected and pray,” Peppers said.
“We feel as though, at this level, we have a platform with which we can speak on because when we take that helmet off we're all regular people at the end of the day. We have people who've been affected it, people who may be affected by it in the future, so we just decided to just take a moment, pray, give God the glory and put it all in his hands.”