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'Healthy discussion' led to anthem protest by some Bills – but will that continue?

The last place Eric Wood probably wanted to be Monday afternoon was standing behind a podium answering questions.

The Buffalo Bills’ center said he didn’t “want to take a strong stance either way,” on the widespread protests held in the NFL on Sunday following incendiary comments by President Donald Trump over what should happen to players who elect not to stand for the national anthem.

Wood is not one of those players, and “wasn’t affected by the issues that have come about like some of the other guys have.”

However, as a team captain, he did come out to address the topic, and did so in eloquent fashion.

“It’s a wild time in America right now and we have a polarizing president it appears and he made some remarks that a lot of the guys in the NFL took offense to,” Wood said Monday. “I know from our team, the guys who knelt meant no disrespect to the military whatsoever. I think what’s got a lot of the fans and the people that support the NFL upset is they think it’s a shot at the military. I think I speak for everyone that says it is absolutely not a disrespect to the military.

“A football team is like the rest of America, everyone has different opinions, but I think we had a healthy discussion Saturday night. Some of us locked arms, some of us knelt, guys did whatever, but this team is close. I have nothing but love and respect for everyone on this team, and that was our message that kind of came out of our discussion Saturday night, a very healthy discussion, a very mature discussion to have based upon ownership and everybody that was in that room.”

The Bills met for about an hour Saturday night to address how the team would handle any potential protests during the anthem, a topic that demanded attention after Trump targeted NFL players over the weekend.

“I know a lot of guys were deeply hurt by it, and guys who wouldn’t normally take a knee did it because there was a line drawn in the sand,” he said. “A lot of guys just wanted to support other guys throughout the league that had maybe taken a stand in the past.”

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The intention in meeting Saturday was for the team to come to a consensus on doing something together before the game against the Denver Broncos.

“An hour was a long discussion, but on such a heavy topic, ultimately it wasn’t enough,” Wood said.

The Bills ultimately issued a statement that condemned the president’s comments.

"President Trump's remarks were divisive and disrespectful to the entire NFL community, but we tried to use them as an opportunity to further unify our team and our organization,” it read in part. "Our players have the freedom to express themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner and we all agreed that our sole message is to provide and to promote an environment that is focused on love and equality."

At least a dozen players took a knee during the national anthem Sunday, and coach Sean McDermott didn’t want all of them to “get peppered constantly by questions,” Wood said.

“If guys got tongue tied and didn’t want to say something controversial or didn’t want to face any scrutiny, they could say ‘just refer to the team statement’ which [says] we believe in love and equality,” he said. “Everybody on our team respects one another, but during that hour, we didn’t come to a conclusion of ‘everybody’s going to stand and hold arms,' or whatever the different things that could’ve been presented to relay our message. Ultimately, we decided ‘hey, if you want to kneel, you can kneel, if you want to stand, you can stand, but put your arm on somebody, just show that we all support each other’ and we felt like that was the best thing to do in the short amount of time to create the least amount of distraction for our team, but still allow guys to take their stand.”

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So what happens Sunday in Atlanta, and for the rest of the season?

“I’m not sure,” Wood said. “Maybe as the dust settles for a week, maybe teams will have more time to construct something. My hope would be that we kind of keep ourselves away from it and kind of ignore it, but I don’t know that that’s realistic.

“Guys feel really passionate about this, so hopefully a lot of good can come out of it. I know a lot of people are deeply upset, especially strong supporters of this country, the military, and it’s a really tough situation for me to even talk about.”

Defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who like Wood is a team captain, said the meeting Saturday night did not serve as a distraction to the team.

“I think it was easy. We had an easy, open dialogue about it, what was going on,” he said. “Then guys focused totally in on the game. It was an hourlong deal maybe, and the opportunity to go out and play the game on Sunday, whether it’s anthem protests, family troubles, or whatever troubles life may bring at you, sometimes it’s the best distraction that there is.”

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