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Kimberley A. Martin: Bills, NFL deliver powerful message to Trump

Kimberley A. Martin

This time, LeSean McCoy felt compelled to act.

The divisive words from the nation’s leader had caused him to have an unexpected change of heart. And just like several athletes before him, the Bills’ star running back decided he had no choice but to speak through actions and not only words.

With the national anthem serving as their backdrop, Bills players formed a wall far different than the one President Trump still boasts about building. It was their personal statement — derived from a lengthy and emotional team meeting Saturday night — and their collective response to hate, bigotry and needless division.

While the vocals filled New Era Field, McCoy did not stand, nor did he lock arms with teammates. Instead, he sat down and stretched.

A month after he had dissed Colin Kaepernick for being “a distraction” for his repeated anthem kneel-downs, McCoy had now followed suit. In his own way. For his own reasons.

“The flag and the national anthem means a lot, to me, to my teammates,” McCoy later explained.  "I was very bothered by the comments of our president of this country. As a president you’re supposed to lead us, you’re supposed to bring us together. You know, you’re supposed to lead this country."

McCoy had called the president an expletive on Twitter on Saturday.

"I can’t stand and support something where our leader of this country is acting like a jerk, angry and upset about NFL players protesting in a peaceful manner,” he said.

With a flurry of disrespectful and racially insensitive comments over the weekend, Trump took aim at the NFL and predominantly black players protesting police brutality and racial inequality in America. But the firestorm he created with his expletive-filled commentary lit the fuse to an even bigger movement.

Bills, Broncos participate in large-scale silent protest during national anthem

Trump, in essence, did the impossible: He united a fractured NFL.

Over the course of one powerful, poignant football Sunday in September, players, coaches and owners around the country — and across the pond in London — delivered a symbolic message to President Trump: The NFL brotherhood will not be broken. Not by anyone. Least of all a man who characterized a segment of its players as a “son of a bitch.”

Hours before the Bills made a strong statement on the field, upsetting the favored Broncos, 26-16, at New Era Field, Sean McDermott’s team delivered a powerful pregame message in defense of free speech and unity.

At least a dozen of his players kneeled, while 32 of the Broncos did the same across the field. And they all did so in spite of Trump’s hurtful rhetoric.

The public displays across the league were varied, but their intent was clear.

Some knelt. Some raised fists. Others stood. Many interlocked arms. Then there were those — like the Seahawks, Titans and Steelers (save for one player) — who didn’t stand on the sidelines at all during the anthem. And in Western New York, the Bills and Broncos expressed their solidarity as they saw fit.

In the aftermath of an impressive home win and a 2-1 record, the Bills' locker room was filled with laughter and good-natured ribbing. But in the midst of the merriment, players made sure to address another important takeaway. As different as they all are, they are still one, bonded by a common goal.

Watch: LeSean McCoy on anthem protests, Trump 'acting like a jerk'

Jordan Matthews said it best, as he stood in the vestibule of the locker room on Sunday. “There is unity in the diversity,” he told me.

In McDermott’s locker room, where having love for the man next to you is a basic tenet of his culture rebuild, players knew they needed to respond somehow.

The NFL community is a tight circle. And when Trump took shots at Kaepernick, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Jenkins and others — men who continue to be advocates in their respective communities — Bills players felt personally attacked, too.

“I know Michael Bennett, I know where his heart’s at,” said Matthews. “Now I’m going to make that public demonstration to let him know that I stand with him. That’s not who you are, those words do not define you.

“As a team, we’re all on the same line, whether you’re kneeling, whether you’re standing, there’s that unity. I think that’s what people have to understand.”

Matthews was especially troubled by Trump’s comments, which were delivered at a rally Friday night in his hometown of Huntsville, Ala.

“When the leader of the free world says stuff like that — in my hometown — no, no no, that’s not how (someone in) that position is supposed to handle himself. These are your citizens. And so we wanted to stand with our brothers.”

Bills knew they had to do something to get passing game going ... and they did

Some Bills players were bothered by the racial undertones of Trump’s rant. Others, believed the president’s words only served to perpetuate hate, not love.

But the irony of it all, is that Trump helped to mobilize the same men he took issue with. And it turned McCoy, one of Kaepernick’s vocal detractors, into somewhat of a sympathizer. At least on Sunday.

“The good thing about this country is that you can do what you want, the freedom to express yourself,” the running back said. “And I felt that, hey if that’s something he wants to do, it’s perfectly fine. At times I thought I wouldn’t to do something like that, and then when you hear different remarks and comments from our leader, from our President of the United States.

"This is a great country. You know, people strive hard to get over here, they do a lot of different things to get over here for a reason. And when that leader, your president makes different comments, it’s just hard for me to respect and try to represent some of this that I don’t believe in.”

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