Washington (AFP) – Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters raised his right fist during the US national anthem Sunday on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — the latest NFL player to join Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racial inequality.
Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, sparked a firestorm of criticism when he sat or kneeled during “The Star-Spangled Banner” at NFL pre-season games, but Peters’ protest came on the first big Sunday of the regular season.
Kaepernick has said he is protesting against racial discrimination and police brutality in the United States in the wake of a series of high-profile fatal shootings of black men by law enforcement — most often by white police officers.
NFL players, many of them African-Americans, joined US first responders and military personnel in pre-game tributes Sunday on the anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington.
The Chiefs linked arms in a sign of unity but Peters, who was on the right end of the line of players, raised his clenched black-gloved fist during the US anthem.
“What was going on in law enforcement, it does need to change,” Peters said Friday. “It does need to change for all, equal opportunities for everybody, not just us as black Americans. I feel that over the past year it has been displayed what’s been going on across America and across the world.
“I don’t think nothing is being done about it.”
Peters’ raised fist evoked memories of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic men’s 200 meter medal podium protest over human rights by Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised black-gloved fists during the US anthem.
Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall kneeled during the US anthem in Thursday’s season opener against the Carolina Panthers — and lost an endorsement from a Colorado credit union the next day.
The Seattle Seahawks, a team with several players who have voiced support for Kaepernick, have agreed to link arms as well in a game that starts later Sunday.
Kaepernick and the 49ers do not begin the season until Monday at home against the Los Angeles Rams.
– Players ‘have rights’ –
Video messages in NFL stadiums from US President Barack Obama and former US president George W. Bush marked the anniversary and paid tribute to American first responders.
US Vice President Joe Biden was among those holding a huge flag at the Philadelphia Eagles’ home game against the Cleveland Browns, where a “U-S-A, U-S-A” chant broke out.
New York Jets players joined area first responders in holding a huge American flag before their home opener against the Buffalo Bills.
Bush was set to perform the pre-game coin toss at Dallas later, accompanied by his wife Laura and two New York police officers who were at Ground Zero in 2001.
“We hold the victims of 9/11 and their families in our hearts and on this fifteenth anniversary, we lift them up in our prayers,” Bush said in a statement.
At some stadiums, US military airplanes flew a “Missing Man” formation over the venues, a nod to nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives 15 years ago.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told NBC players should be allowed to protest — even on the anniversary of the deadly 9/11 attacks — but should also respect those who have sacrificed for America.
“They have rights and we have to respect that,” he said.
“I support our players speaking out on issues that need to be changed in society. But that’s what the focus should be on, the changes he wants to see in the society,” Goodell added.
“What I do believe, though, is the respect for our country, the people who fought for those freedoms and values, the people who protect us here and abroad — those are very important. We’re a patriotic league.”