The NFL preseason has never really mattered except in the context of players busting their ankles or getting otherwise torn before the real games even start, but in 2018, it’s also a bellwether for how socially conscious football players are responding to the NFL’s increasingly thoughtless and grasping attempts to prevent players from exercising their right to peaceful protest before football games. So, based on Thursday night’s games, how’s it going?
Two Miami Dolphins wide receivers, Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson, kneeled during the national anthem before their team’s preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Stills has consistently kneeled during the anthem for the last two seasons in protest against police brutality and racial inequality; Wilson, who signed with the Dolphins in the offseason, had previously sat for the anthem at least once last season when playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, according to the Miami Herald. In addition, Dolphins defensive end Robert Quinn raised a fist during the anthem.
Philadelphia Eagles players Malcolm Jenkins and De’Vante Bausby also raised their fists during the anthem. According to USA Today, other players remained in the locker room during the anthem: Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Telvin Smith, and running backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon.
Meanwhile, Eagles players including Alshon Jeffery, Shelton Gibson, Danny Ezechukwu, and Kamar Aiken wore pregame shirts bearing statistics about racial inequality in U.S. prisons and voter disenfranchisement.
The shirts appear to be part of the Players Coalition’s efforts to raise awareness about social issues. Earlier this month, Patriots safety Devin McCourty wore and distributed shirts that read #SchoolsNotPrisons, advocating against the school-to-prison pipeline. Though the coalition itself has been divided at times, generally NFL players with a desire to shine a light on injustice haven’t been cowed into submission by the NFL’s blustering about anthem protests.