Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the national anthem on September 1st, 2016.
In the nearly 13 months since the former NFL quarterback took a stand by taking a knee, tight end Julius Thomas had never followed suit – until Sunday. So, what changed?
“After I heard the President’s comments – and just the difference in characterization he had for my fellow peers taking a silent protest, in comparison to the way he characterized people that were preaching hate – it really struck me,” Thomas told Erin Burnett Monday evening.
During a Friday night speech in Alabama, President Donald Trump labeled NFL players as “sons of bitches” for failing to stand during the National Anthem.
“When I watched it, I was just truly hurt,” Thomas, now a Miami Dolphin, said. “I don’t think a lot of people truly understand what it feels like to wake up in this country and not feel equal.”
“It was tough, it was very emotional for me,” he added. “And in that moment, I knew that I could no longer continue to stand by and not take a stance.”
During Sunday’s slate of NFL games, players across the league, from teams across the country, joined in displays of opposition to Trump’s comments. While many athletes linked arms in unison, others joined Thomas in kneeling, and others still remained inside the locker room until the song concluded. For Thomas, the uptick in activism can be directly linked to the President, and a perception that he doesn’t govern or love equally.
“I don’t think that’s something that’s even arguable at this point,” he said on CNN’s “OutFront.” “It truly seems to me and to those in my life that the President is not concerned with the people who feel less privileged in this country.”
While the NFL’s players haven’t been fully united in their forms of expression, or even in their stance on standing for the flag, Thomas doubts division will filter in and poison teams. In fact, he says, that’s actually the whole point of the protests themselves.
“Whatever stance you decided to make or if you want to stand for the anthem and you want to put your hand over your heart and go along, that’s fine, that’s okay,” Thomas said. “What we’re saying is, in no way is it okay for the President of the United States to try to intimidate people from expressing themselves peacefully.”
So with more attention on the NFL than at any point so far this year, and with fans and players politically polarized like never before, what’s Thomas’ next play?
“I’ve decided that I’m going to continue to take a knee,” he said. “This is an issue going on in this country that I feel like needs to be heard. And right, wrong or indifferent, I feel that doing that before the game is the way to have the greatest impact.”
Thomas and his Dolphins teammates’ next opportunity for national impact will come on a global stage, as Miami travels to Wembley Stadium in London for a Sunday meeting with the New Orleans Saints.