CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The New Orleans Saints made a statement Sunday.

Well, actually they made two.

The first one lasted a little less than two minutes.

The second one lasted for about three hours.

Some fans watched.

Others refused to.

For those who refused to watch, what you missed was the Saints' first victory of the season, a 34-13 road thumping against the Carolina Panthers.

It was an emphatic statement that said the Saints, now 1-2, ain't done yet.

But it's the statement the Saints made BEFORE the game that created the most buzz.

Ten Saints players sat on the bench during the national anthem, just two days after President Donald Trump's controversial statements about NFL protests. Four other players stood by nearby, with their hands placed on their sitting teammates. President Trump suggested Friday during a rally in Alabama that NFL owners should fire players who protest during the anthem.

For those in the don't-mix-my-sports-with-politics crowd who just want to read about the game, you may want to stop reading here.

You have that right.

But Rafael Bush, Kenny Vaccaro, Chris Banjo, Sheldon Rankins, Alex Okafor, Cameron Jordan, Adrian Peterson, Alvin Kamara, Brandon Coleman, Mark Ingram, Thomas Morstead, Marshon Lattimore, Craig Robinson and Coby Fleener exercised their rights, too. So did injured offensive lineman Terron Armstead, who elected to stay in the locker room during the anthem.

Many fans some 700 miles away in New Orleans went to social media to express their outrage. Some turned off their television sets and others planned to sell their season tickets.

Some a bit closer voiced their outrage, too. Ingram says he heard it while sitting on the bench from fans at Bank of America Stadium.

"Stand up, losers," Ingram recalled hearing.

He expected the backlash.

"You know that's gonna come," Ingram said. "I'm sure if you look on social media, I'm sure they are 'MFing' and telling us we are the worst type of Americans. But I love my country, and I want the best for my country."

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The anthem protests, of course, started last season when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling to raise awareness about police brutality and racial injustices that have affected the African-American community. No Saints players had knelt or protested before Sunday. 

Those issues may not affect Morstead, one of two non-African-American players who participated in the protest. But he had a simple reason for why he joined in.

"My conscience," Morstead said.

Morstead stood and put his hands on the shoulder of Bush during the anthem.

"I don't have the same background as a lot of guys on the team," Morstead said. "But I hang around them, and it kinda opens your eyes to different situations that people have grown up in and different prejudices. It's frustrating that the narrative will be these guys are disrespecting the flag or disrespecting the military ."

Most of the Saints players who protested said they consulted with friends and family members in the military before Sunday.

"It's not about disrespecting the military and the flag," Okafor said. "It's about the Constitution, and it's about freedom of speech."

Okafor talked about how he and his teammates stood and applauded when military members were honored during the game. Players like Jordan have taken their support of the military further. Jordan went on a USO tour and visited troops in Southwest Asia and the Middle East during the offseason. Ingram wore an image of the American flag on the visor of his facemask Sunday.

Unfortunately, some fans won't care about any of that.

They won't care that the Saints won on Sunday, either.

They weren't watching when Coleman caught a touchdown pass from Drew Brees in the second quarter that put the Saints ahead to stay. Coleman celebrated by raising his right fist.

But some fans weren't celebrating with him.  For those fans, what the Saints did before the game ruined what they did during the game.

They are the ones who believe players should stick to sports.

"It's their opinion, and I respect that," Morstead said.

These are the same players who have done so much to give back to the community. Players like Ingram, Morstead and Jordan are constantly visiting local hospitals, speaking at schools, and giving away school supplies. 

So perhaps sticking to sports only applies when it doesn't make one uncomfortable. 

Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue summed it all up best. Tagliabue, who was in charge from 1989-2006, attended Sunday's game and addressed the media beforehand.

"(Players) are entitled to speak," Tagliabue said. "We are entitled to listen. We are entitled to disagree, or agree, for that matter. But we are not entitled to shut anybody's speech down."

Everyone SHOULD agree with that.

But everyone won't.

And you have that right.

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.