It was made a footnote by their late-game meltdown, but Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford became one of the highest-profile players in any sport to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem when he did so before Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.
Stafford joined running back Adrian Peterson and a handful of other teammates in kneeling for the anthem, while more than a dozen players retreated to the locker room during the song and others stood in unison on the field.
Asked about his decision Wednesday, Stafford said it “just felt like it was the right thing at the right time.”
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“Obviously, it’s been an amazing offseason for me personally, for our team, for a lot of people,” he said. “There’s been a great opportunity for growth and learning and understanding, and just felt like it was the right thing for me, as certain guys on our team felt like the right thing was standing, certain guys felt like the right thing for them was being in the locker room. We support each other. We know where everybody stands in our locker room. We love each other and support each other and that’s that.”
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NFL players demonstrated en mass last week against racial injustice and police brutality.
The Houston Texans stayed in its locker room for the playing of the anthem during the league’s kickoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs, and the two teams linked arms in a show of unity once they took the field. Some fans in Kansas City booed the demonstration.
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Stafford, who stood for the anthem when several Lions players took a knee in 2017, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett were among the highest-profile players to kneel Sunday. Lions coach Matt Patricia stood behind his players.
Lions safety Will Harris, who retreated to the locker room for the anthem, said he appreciated Stafford’s gesture.
“All these guys, everyone in the locker room, everyone in the building, the whole organization’s been behind one another and just, you can feel the support and you can feel the love just running through the halls,” he said. “To see that, I mean, that’s just the physical side of seeing his emotions towards the rest of his teammates. Obviously, you could tell he really cares, just like the rest of us really care and everyone on this roster, we’re all behind each other and supporting each other especially during trying times like this. So it was great. It was great. That’s my quarterback. That’s my guy.”
Playing his first game in more than 10 months, since he fractured bones in his back in a Nov. 3, 2019, loss to the Oakland Raiders, Stafford threw for 297 yards and a touchdown on 24 of 42 passing, but threw a late-game interception that set up the Bears’ winning touchdown.
On Wednesday, Stafford said his back “felt good” during the game, but acknowledged he felt rusty in his return.
“I felt like it took me a little bit too long to get settled into this one,” he said. “I wasn’t efficient enough early. I don’t know that, that was because I hadn’t played a game or I just didn’t get into the flow. Either way, I’m trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again, just try to get going as fast as we possibly can and make sure that we’re not going a three-and-out early and keeping our defense off the field.”
The Lions (0-1) play the Green Bay Packers (1-0) on Sunday at Lambeau Field and need a win in order to avoid falling two games behind the Packers in the division race.
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Last year, their season began slipping away with a Week 6 loss to the Packers, when they led all of regulation but fell in controversial fashion, after two questionable penalties on Trey Flowers, when Mason Crosby made a 23-yard field goal as time expired.
The Lions lost four more games in which they had second half leads, and continued their disturbing trend of late-game meltdowns against the Bears.
“Lucky for us, Green Bay gets our attention pretty quick,” Stafford said. “Division opponent, at their place, played really well Week 1, a really good football team. I know from the offensive side of the ball they’ve got an extremely talented defense and they’re really talented at their offensive side of the ball as well. So we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content.