Buffalo Bills Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas said Wednesday that he supports NFL player protests during the playing of the national anthem at games and doesn't believe the players should be viewed as disrespecting the military.
"This is something that we as African-Americans feel very, very proud of, what we're doing right now," Thomas said. "It's not about the flag. It's not about the anthem. It's not about the military. It's about what has been going on for the past I don't know how many years, and I guess we're sick and tired of it, and now we're speaking out about it."
Thomas talked with The Buffalo News in Lockport, where he attended an event on behalf of Batavia Downs Gaming.
Here's a transcript of the rest of the interview:
Buffalo News: What's your reaction to the report this morning that Commissioner Goodell might be planning a policy requiring all the players to stand for the anthem?
Thomas: "I think he has to do it from what has been going on. He has to send out a letter, but I think we have a pretty good players association group that, you know, it's gonna go back and forth. I don't know if something's going to be resolved five games, six games into the season. But, you know what, it's something to talk about. The narrative has kind of changed a little bit, because you first started out with kneeling with Colin Kaepernick and now it's all of a sudden about the flag, the anthem and the military. It was not about that before. It was a protest (against) police brutality – and racial injustice, and that is what it's always been about. So now the fact that they're trying to put in some type of rule that you have to stand now – well, you know what? – the rule hasn't been there before, and now all of a sudden because African-American players want to protest against something, now you want to put in a rule. And, that's what we've been saying over the past years, is that, hey, it just has not been equal ground for us and other people in the United States."
Buffalo News: Your old quarterback spoke out very strongly against the players who were protesting. Do you have a different take, or do you agree with what Jim (Kelly) said?
Thomas: "I disagree with what he said and how he went about it. You know, from what Jim has been through, there's a different way to do that. I just think coming out and talking about LeSean (McCoy) like that and coming out and talking about the team and what you would do - go and talk to those players. I mean, you say it once, it's going to be all over the place. And what happens? Jim comes back the next day and has to say something totally different about he didn't mean that in that way, he just got caught up in that moment in time. I thought he learned his lesson back in the days of the Bickering Bills, but I guess not." (Thomas then laughed loudly.)
Buffalo News: There's been reports around the league that this has disrupted some teams. Does this have the potential to disrupt the Bills or other clubs?
Thomas: "I don't think so. It might have been something to disrupt some other clubs, but I think being here in Buffalo, we've been pretty straightforward with what we want to do and how we want to do it with Coach McDermott and the Pegulas. They always have a plan and they've been great owners since they owned the team. I'm sure, just like before they decided to kneel, they had a meeting with the coaches, the players. That's just how they do business. I can't speak for other teams. I don't know what's going on in other locker rooms. Actually, I can't speak for the Buffalo Bills because I'm not in that locker room. I talk to players outside of that, and really, when it comes down to it, we talk a little bit about what's going on. We talk about football and we talk about other things. Really, I don't think it's going to be a distraction for the Bills. I think Coach McDermott has already proven, him and the general manager, (Brandon) Beane, they're going to do some things that might not be liked by a lot of players, a lot of fans, trading Sammy Watkins. They seem to have everything under control, and I think the players have their back on what they want to do. But I also do think that the Pegulas and the coaching staff do lean on the players and ask them their opinions a lot."
Buffalo News: Do you think this current lineup is good enough to make the playoffs this year?
Thomas: "I think it's going to be tough for their defense to continue playing at the level they've been playing at. I mean, they've really been a big surprise. That's coming from a lot of people, not myself nor Coach McDermott. He's been a defensive coach, his defensive coordinator is Leslie Frazier, and he knows that type of players that he wants. I don't know. I just think the offense can play better. I think losing Charles Clay for a couple of weeks is going to hurt. I don't quite know if it's a playoff team or not, the way they're playing, but it's going to show a lot in a week and a half when they come back and play Tampa. It's really close in the AFC. This could be a year where New England might not be very good, they might be good, but it's hard to say. So I'm excited. I've been really impressed by the first five games of the season, 3-2 and in first place, and hopefully they continue that throughout the season.