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Cameron Jefferson heckled by Bills fan, while his fist and roster spot remain in the air

Before the game, for the third time this preseason but the first in New Era Field, Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Cameron Jefferson raised his right fist during the national anthem.

A team's fourth NFL preseason game is considered among the sports world's most useless exercises. Fans are expected to pay full price to watch starters stand on the sideline in street clothes while backups, many of whom will get released in three days, try to survive an exhibition without getting hurt.

To Jefferson, however, the game presented significance before it began.

Regardless of your politics, what he heard next was obnoxious.

At least twice, a fan behind Jefferson screamed "We're gonna cut you, 60!" as Williamsville East senior Olivia Notaro sang in front of the color guard from JROTC Leadership Academy for Young Men.

The scene was captured by Thad Brown, sports director of Rochester's WROC-TV, on the Bills' sideline.

Jefferson heard the ridicule. He did not reply.

He kept his black-and-white gloved fist aloft.

Yet the person who apparently was offended by Jefferson's gesture decided it was perfectly acceptable to taunt another American during "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Jefferson has no employment security. He went into Thursday night's game against the Detroit Lions listed third on the depth chart at left tackle. He took mop-up snaps in the fourth quarter, a dim sign for a player on his third NFL team but zero regular-season games on his ledger.

Yet Jefferson dared to raise his right fist again.

Maybe his silent protest will have absolutely no impact on whether the Bills retain him on their 53-man roster. Bills coach Sean McDermott has given his blessing to any player who feels the need to make a statement.

But we're all aware of the Colin Kaepernick debate, whether his controversial decision to kneel during the national anthem last season has deterred an NFL team from signing the free-agent quarterback.

Jefferson is conscious of the intense arguments surrounding Kaepernick's digestibility and that Kaepernick led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl five seasons ago while Jefferson has made only the Denver Broncos' practice squad.

The fact Jefferson is willing to protest -- even if there's half-a-percent chance it could impact Buffalo's decision to keep him -- is a brave decision.

"All I can do is my part and let the chips fall where they may," Jefferson said. "It's in God's hands now."

NFL teams must whittle their rosters to 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday.

Jefferson anticipated Bills fans would hassle him Thursday night despite his uniform. He's the only Bills player so far to make a demonstration during the anthem.

"I was already getting negative reaction on social media," Jefferson said at his locker stall after the Bills beat the Lions, 27-17. "It was expected. Plus, you've got to expect negativity when you're trying to shed light on a difficult issue."

Jefferson was emboldened to protest in the Bills' second preseason game, a few days after racial hatred erupted in Charlottesville, Va.

He saw Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, who is black, raise his right fist across Lincoln Financial Field. Eagles defensive end Chris Long, who is white, put his arm around Jenkins. Jefferson and Jenkins are Omega Psi Phi fraternity brothers.

That game and last week's against the Baltimore Ravens were played on the road, making Thursday night Jefferson's first -- and perhaps only -- opportunity to make his statement in Orchard Park.

"I feel like I'm doing my part through my platform," Jefferson said, "being on an NFL platform, doing it peacefully, doing it positively, not disrespecting the flag, not disrespecting the troops overseas. I'm not saying 'F this,' or 'F that.'

"This is a position of power we have. A lot of people put pro athletes on a pedestal. I just want to show people, hey, I'm a human, too. These are beliefs I'm willing to stand up for."

Jefferson claimed his demonstrations were warranted even if he gets released Saturday.

If he does get cut and the past three weeks become what he was known for in the NFL, then his decision will have been worth it all the more.

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