Eight Lions kneel during anthem; Martha Ford joins show of support

DETROIT -- Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford joined her team Sunday afternoon in linking arms during the playing of the national anthem before Detroit's game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Ford and her daughters are typically in their suite by the time player introductions are announced, but they stayed on the field for the display. Every Lions player except for tight end Eric Ebron joined in the arm-in-arm show of support.

Eight Lions kneeled while linking arms: Tahir Whitehead, Ameer Abdullah, A'Shawn Robinson, Akeem Spence, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Steve Longa, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cornelius Washington.

"It was just a collective group effort, man. Stand up for what's right, man. Right is right and wrong is wrong," Spence said. "No disrespect to the flag, no disrespect to any of the veterans or anything. It was just right is right, wrong is wrong and what the guy [President Donald Trump] said about us as NFL players, I just feel like that's something that's us, as NFL players, we have to stand up for that's not what we are. You know what I'm saying. We're human beings. We give back to the community. We do great things and our owners, you know what I'm saying, they do great things.

"So that's something we don't represent around the NFL. That's something every team should have came out and showed this Sunday that it's not what that guy said about us."

Trump criticized NFL player protests over the weekend, saying those who do so during the pregame national anthem should be released. Ebron, who was vocal Saturday in criticizing Trump's comments, stood behind his team's show of unity by himself, watching his teammates.

Ebron said he is "united with my teammates" but felt the need to stand apart because of his feelings toward what the president said.

"It's not a form of protest. Like I said, I just don't deal with disrespect," Ebron said. "I felt like what came out of the mouth of our leader [Trump] was disrespect. So I'm not going to stand for it."

Lions coach Jim Caldwell made clear the Lions' display was about unity -- not about disrespecting the flag. He linked arms with Ford in the middle of the team's line during the anthem.

"I've been in the league a little while, and I know the players in this league, there are no SOBs in this league. These are men that work hard, of integrity, they're involved in our communities," Caldwell said. "They're fathers, they're brothers and their mothers aren't what he said they were. And our guys, just like anything else, we believe in unity, civility and also the First Amendment rights to peaceful expression and freedom of speech, which you guys certainly know a little bit about, so that's really about all I want to say about it.

"It's taken up too much time and too much energy and we're trying to focus in on things that help us grow and develop, and not things that tear people down and divide us.”

Lions safety Glover Quin said he wasn't sure if the team's pregame actions would continue beyond Sunday's game. But he explained that, to him, Sunday was about "solidarity," protesting what Trump said and about the issues that he sees going on in the United States. Quin was one of the players who joined Anquan Boldin in Washington last year to discuss police brutality.

"It was about solidarity. And it was about all of it. To be honest with you, because police brutality, criminal justice, racism, all that stuff. All that stuff, man," Quin said. "Things are happening every day that we all know shouldn't be happening but until somebody stands up and stops it, it's going to continue to happen.

"So for the president to basically tell the people who are trying to make a difference that they need to stop, like I said, you obviously know what side of the fence he's on."

The singer of the national anthem, Rico LaVelle, also took a knee and raised his fist after the conclusion of his rendition of the anthem.

When the Lions' public-address announcer read a statement calling for unity before the anthem, fans at Ford Field booed heavily.

Earlier Sunday, Lions team president Rod Wood said he did not know if any of his team's players had plans to protest during the anthem, but that if they did, there would be "no ramifications." He also said the franchise would support whatever players decide to do.

"They are all individuals and are entitled to their opinions, and free speech is what this country is about," Wood said. "So whatever they decide to do is up to them."

Wood said the franchise had "a lot of conversations" over the past 24 hours, including with Ford and coach Jim Caldwell on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Ford released a statement Sunday morning, hoping for unity.

"Our game has long provided a powerful platform for dialogue and positive change in many communities throughout our nation," Ford said. "Thanks primarily to our players, the NFL also has been a unifying force in our country and impactful change has and hopefully will continue to be the result of peaceful expression, done so in order to highlight social injustices of all kind.

"Negative and disrespectful comments suggesting otherwise are contrary to the founding principles of our country, and we do not support those comments or opinions."