CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Saints won their first game of the season on Sunday, beating the Carolina Panthers 34-13.
But it was what some of the Saints did before the game that got much of the attention.
Ten New Orleans Saints sat on the bench during the national anthem in protest, and four more players stood near the group in a show of support before the team's game against the Carolina Panthers.
The protest came two days after controversial comments from President Donald Trump.
The Saints and Pelicans organizations released a statement roughly half an hour before the start of Sunday's game, saying that Trump's comments were "disappointing and inappropriate." The statement expressed support for the players and also expressed the team's respect for the flag and the anthem.
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At least one restaurant in the New Orleans area refused to show the Saints game on TV in protest of the players' protest.
The players' decision to sit during the anthem was part of protests across the league in backlash to comments by Trump.
Trump told supporters in Alabama on Friday night that NFL owners should fire any player who takes a knee during the national anthem, called players who participate in protests "sons of (expletives)" and doubled down on his opinions by reiterating them on Twitter on Saturday and Sunday.
"For the president to come out and call players SOBs, I can't stand for that," tackle Terron Armstead said.
Armstead remained in the locker room while the anthem was being played as a form of protest. Meanwhile, 14 of his teammates protested on the field.
Rafael Bush, Kenny Vaccaro, Chris Banjo, Sheldon Rankins, Alex Okafor, Cameron Jordan, Adrian Peterson, Alvin Kamara, Brandon Coleman and Mark Ingram all sat on the bench during the anthem. Thomas Morstead, Marshon Lattimore, Craig Robinson and Coby Fleener stood nearby with hands on their teammates' shoulders.
"I am proud of every one of them," Saints coach Sean Payton said.
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Payton said he wasn't pleased with Trump's comments.
"I would say, personally, I am disappointed in the comments that were made," Payton said. "I think we need a little bit more wisdom in that office. That's being a little blunt, but that's how I feel. I want that guy to be one of the smarter guys in the room, and it seems like every time he's opening his mouth, it's something that is dividing our country and not pulling us together."
The Saints' protest was one of several across the league Sunday. Saints players had discussed doing something in response to Trump's comments, but they said there was no coordinated plan.
"I started getting emotional as it got to the point where the anthem was about to start, and I was like, 'You know what, I'm not going to stand today,' " Vaccaro said. "I know how it's viewed for a lot of teams, a lot of owners, but at the same time, I thought it was more important, I thought it was bigger than football at that moment, until that first whistle."
Saints quarterback Drew Brees said he didn't agree with Trump's comments, but he did not participate in the protest.
"Do I think that there's inequality in this country? Yes, I do," Brees said. "Do I think that there's racism? Yes, I do. Do I think that there's inequality for women, women in the workplace? I think there's inequality for people of color, minorities, for immigrants, but as it pertains to the national anthem, I will always feel that if you are an American, the national anthem is the opportunity for us all to stand up together, to be unified and to show respect for our country. To show respect for what it stands for, the birth of our nation."
Saints players were unsure if they would continue to protest Sunday, when the team plays the Miami Dolphins in London.
"We thought this was the right time," Okafor said. "We are so close as a team. There is no judgment. Everybody's opinion is respected. So there is no looking down or frowning upon for the people that sat or the people that stood."
WOW Cafe & Wingery of St. Bernard in Chalmette took to Facebook to say it wouldn't televise the game because of the players' action.
"I apologize to all of our guests but we will not be viewing the Saints game today in house," the post read. "Some of our local players chose to sit during the National Anthem, which will not be supported or praised at WOW. Again, we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Thank you."
Lindsey Manasco, a 31-year-old manager, waitress and bartender at the Chalmette eatery, said, "That’s disrespectful to the United States." She said she hadn’t heard of any other nearby businesses following suit.
The decision was ultimately made by Brooke Anastasiadis, the owner of the St. Bernard restaurant, Manasco said.
She said Anastasiadis wanted to show solidarity with members of the military, police officers and firefighters, all of whom are given a 20 percent discount in the restaurant when they dine there in uniform.
Manasco added that the restaurant would continue to boycott the game “any time the Saints kneel.”
She reported that a couple of tables walked out when diners learned that the game wouldn’t be shown, but that most customers “are agreeing with us.”
Staff writer Della Hasselle contributed to this report.
Photos: From London to U.S., see NFL player protests across the league
NFL players used the national anthem to show their defiance to President Donald Trump's criticism, with at least 100 players kneeling or sitting in protest and one team staying in the locker room. Most teams in the early afternoon games locked arms in solidarity. At least three team owners joined their players.