When the national anthem played before Sunday’s season opener with the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions didn’t have a uniform response. Some players stood, others briefly returned to the locker room and several took a knee.
Among those kneeling during the anthem was quarterback Matthew Stafford. On Wednesday, he offered some insight on the personal decision.
“Just felt like it was the right thing at the right time,” Stafford said. “Obviously it’s been an amazing offseason just for our team, for a lot of people, something where there’s been great opportunity for growth and learning and understanding, and just felt like it was the right thing for me.
“Certain guys felt like the right thing for them 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, we support each other, and that’s that.”
The day before the game, the team released a statement announcing it would support each player’s individual decision.
“We support everyone’s right to stand, kneel, or remain in the locker room during the anthem,” the statement read. “We support and respect the ideals of our teammates. Unity does not always mean doing the same thing. Unity is understanding, listening, loving, and supporting those around you. Unity is recognizing others have experiencing a life through a different lens than your own. Unity is understanding that change is needed.”
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While so much attention was given to how the players would address the anthem, it really was a small moment in a complex and unique offseason for the Lions and the NFL. As protests and civil unrest spread across the country this spring and summer, the team spent a significant portion of their virtual offseason discussing the current events, as well as their personal experiences.
And after a Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot several times in the back by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Lions took a public stand by canceling practice and adopting the mottos, “We Won’t Be Silent” and “The World Can’t Go On.”
“It was the first time, like I said, we’ve all been in the same room to talk about it, and had the ability to see each other’s faces and really be in the same room and feel that,” Stafford said the day the team canceled practice. “Obviously, it’s something that continues to happen. The level of frustration and anger is real, it’s palpable. The first-hand stories from my teammates is something until the day I die I will never forget.
“This offseason, even today, guys telling stories they haven’t told anybody before. And they feel comfortable enough in our locker room to tell the guys and the coaches, everybody that’s in there. It was incredible, it was awesome. I love being apart of it. It’s such an incredible feeling and hopefully just the beginning. But I’m just proud to be the quarterback of this team, proud to be apart of this organization and just really happy to be apart of it today.”
Stafford’s decision to kneel on Sunday resonated with teammates, including second-year safety Will Harris.
“We’ve just been keeping the conversation alive and just been reiterating any time that someone is feeling something — get it off your chest,” Harris said. “All these guys, everyone in the locker room, everyone in the building, the whole organization has been behind one another. You can feel the support. You can feel the love just running through the halls. To see that? The physical side of seeing his emotions toward the rest of his teammates, I mean, obviously, you could tell he really cares, just like the rest of us really care, as in everyone on this roster. We’re all behind each other and supporting each other, especially during trying times like this. It was great. That’s my quarterback. That’s my guy.”