The Tennessee Titans’ Rishard Matthews, who once said he’d quit the NFL if he was forced to stand for the national anthem, marched onto the field at Nissan Stadium Sunday alongside two members of the military:
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) November 12, 2017
The moment was part of the Titans’ Veterans’ Day “Salute To Service,” which in turn is part of an entire NFL-wide effort honoring the military this weekend. The military connection is taking on a different tone this year in the wake of league-wide protests, but it’s clearly the league’s hope that angry fans will note the present togetherness rather than the previous division.
Matthews had spent previous games in the tunnel prior to the anthem, but remained on the field, and stood, during Sunday’s anthem, according to local media reports. (No NFL players across the league protested during the early slate of games, according to the Associated Press.)
Some fans are going to see this as some kind of stunt, or Matthews caving and going back on his word. Perhaps, but it’s also worth looking at this, and the entire protest controversy, in something more than primary colors. It’s possible to both protest against systemic equality and support the sacrifices of troops; it’s possible to understand that the freedoms this country allows its citizens include the freedom not to stand for the anthem. Matthews has also done more than simply protest, donating $75,000 to help fund programs in oppressed communities. Matthews is also familiar with military duty and sacrifice; his brother, a retired Marine, died in Afghanistan in 2015 while working as a private contractor.
Matthews’ run follows the Seattle Seahawks’ decision to stand during the anthem on Thursday night, even though many members of the team have spent the entire year either seated or kneeling during the anthem. It’s part of players’ attempt to place some distance between their protests and the military, a distinction that’s been lost in all the hue and cry over protests in the past two months.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.
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