SUNBURY-ON-THAMES, England — The Saints plan to take a knee before the national anthem of Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins, and then stand during the playing of the song, in what they want to be a show of unity.
New Orleans had 10 players remain seated on the bench during the playing of the anthem last week against the Carolina Panthers, which came after President Donald Trump said any player who kneeled during the anthem to protest racial inequality was a “son of a bitch.” Trump also called on owners to fire any player who did not stand during the anthem.
Coach Sean Payton said Saints ownership was not involved in the team’s decision on how to approach the anthem this week against Miami.
“Look, those guys met, and like with anything, with the team, it’s something that I think they and all of us felt we want to be unified and I think that’s good,” Payton said. “We’ve got good leadership, and I think it’s a good thing.”
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The widespread protests around the league last week have induced many reactions, with many fans posting videos of themselves burning team gear and tickets. Some of the many complaints players have heard is that they’re “spoiled millionaires” and suggestions that they should find other ways to protest that won’t offend anyone.
But the players want people to know that they’re taking a risk by kneeling. The Advocate was told there are players on the Saints who wanted to sit during the anthem but were afraid to do so because of what has happened to Colin Kaepernick. He was the first NFL player to kneel during the anthem last season and hasn’t been able to get on a team after being released in March.
“You understand what happened with Kaepernick?” safety Kenny Vaccaro told The Advocate on Friday. “There are guys out there that he’s clearly better than. Not even a third-stringer? He’s not playing. We’re risking everything. I’m going to be a free agent next year. If I continue kneeling or whatever, and I start getting out in the community more and doing all of that, how will it affect my family? At that moment, it was bigger than football. It’s about progress, change.”
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Vaccaro has quickly found out that sitting during the anthem last week is much bigger than football. The Slidell Mardi Gras krewe rescinded an invitation to him and Saints defensive end Alex Okafor to serve as grand marshals for the parade.
The New Orleans safety also had plans to grow his Kenny Vaccaro Foundation, which focuses on providing economically challenged students with literacy and education resources, this year, but he had to put the agenda on hold after half the members dropped him for sitting during the anthem. As of right now, Vaccaro said it looks like his foundation won’t be able to accomplish its goals.
“Is it that serious? I get it; I love America. I’m grateful for what we have; I’m grateful for our freedom,” Vaccaro said. “I know it’s not like that across the world. You have to understand the real reason why people were taking a knee. A lot of people were doing it because of the president’s comments, but I was going to do it regardless.”
Vaccaro takes offense to the idea that the players protesting are “spoiled millionaires” and that they should find other ways to protest. He says that the players in the league are not just speaking for themselves, they’re speaking out for those who do not have the same platform to bring attention to the issues people are facing.
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He also believes that people are using the flag and anthem to try to bury the issues. Several teams, such as the Green Bay Packers, received scorn for locking arms during the anthem in a show of unity. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he could hear “negativity being yelled” during the anthem. After the game, Rodgers asked, “What’s disrespectful to the anthem, yelling things during it or standing at attention with arms locked facing the flag? Let you decide.”
“I’m half black and half white. It has nothing to do with race to me,” Vaccaro said. “My dad passed away when I was little. We come from nothing. I want to represent both sides.
“Sometimes I think people confuse what patriotism is. I think it’s a misconception. I think they’re just using this flag and military thing to cover up the real problem that’s at hand. It makes people uncomfortable. I don’t think everybody believes that we’re trying to disrespect (the anthem). The whole league?”
Still, Vaccaro is sympathetic to the flag. He and nearly everyone else who has sat or kneeled has stated they are not doing so to disrespect the flag. Vaccaro talked to members of the military before he sat last week.
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He says he supports the troops and understands America has it better than most other countries. Vaccaro knows the right to kneel during the anthem is one of those freedoms many other countries do not enjoy.
But he also wonders what better platform exists. If the goal is to raise awareness and bring about change, the most effective place to do that is at a football game.
“People were complaining about the platform we’re using,” Vaccaro said. “That’s the only platform that’s going to get attention. If I start doing it in the street, no one is going to pay attention to me. But if you do it to the anthem, and you’re not disrespecting the anthem, people are going to watch. People are tuning in now to see what we’re going to do and not watch the game. Don’t get the two confused.”