By EDDIE PELLS, AP National Writer
DENVER (AP) — Last season, the Seattle Seahawks led the in the number of players willing to make a statement while the national anthem played.
To start this season, that wave of Seahawks has dwindled to only two players.
Linemen Duane Brown and Quinton Jefferson walked off the field and waited in the tunnel while a field-sized American flag was unfurled and the national anthem played before their season opener Sunday in Denver.
In a league where more than 200 players once took some sort of action to protest police brutality and social injustice in America during the anthem, The Associated Press counted fewer than 10 across the league who did so on the NFL’s opening Sunday. Only two of them — Albert Wilson and Kenny Stills of the Dolphins — kneeled while the “Star-Spangled Banner” played.
None of which bothered Brown much. He says he’s committed to what he’s doing.
“I made my decision,” he said. “That was my decision. I wasn’t paying attention to what other teams or other players are doing.”
The lower numbers might reflect a new strategy many players are embracing to draw attention to the issues Colin Kaepernick raised when he began kneeling for the anthem in 2016. The then San Francisco 49ers quarterback was looking to shine a light on issues impacting African American communities.
Since then, a group of NFL players have formed the Players Coalition. They want to move the focus away from the anthem, which has become a lightning rod, in part because of President Donald Trump’s continued criticism of players who don’t stand during the anthem.
“We’re trying to move past the rhetoric of what’s right or what’s wrong in terms of the anthem, and really focus on the systematic issues that are plaguing our communities,” said Malcolm Jenkins of the Eagles, one of the group’s co-founders, who is no longer protesting during the anthem.
And yet, if Kaepernick is on board with all of that, it wasn’t clear Sunday. He took to twitter to praise Wilson and Stiles .
“My Brothers (Stills) and (Wilson) continue to show their unwavering strength by fighting for the oppressed,” Kaepernick said in his tweet. “They have not backed down, even when attacked and intimidated. … Love is at the root of our resistance.”
Kaepernick’s message got through to his friends in Miami.
“I know he has our back,” Stills said. “Really, there has been a huge difference between when we first started protesting and now. A lot of people are reaching out and supporting us, so I really appreciate that. To everybody out there … let’s keep doing our best to make positive change and have these conversations and make our country a better place.”