Backing Colin Kaepernick's protest comes at a cost
'It's an evil world. It's a hateful world. I'm not here to spread hate.'
Standing, kneeling or gesturing in support of Colin Kaepernick's national anthem protests has come at a cost for the dozen NFL players who have joined the cause against social injustices. They've faced vitriolic, sometimes racist reactions, forfeited some of their fan base, and at least one has lost endorsements.
None is deterred by the backlash.
"No, it's worth it," said Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, insisting that while he's disheartened by evaporating endorsements, Twitter trolls and the burning of a T-shirt in front of team headquarters this week, he's also undaunted.
"It's an evil world. It's a hateful world. I'm not here to spread hate. I'm not here to respond to the hate. I'm here to spread love and positivity," Marshall said. "I'm a likable guy. I was once a fan favourite for a reason. It's cool, because people can call me n-word or cuss at me or say they wish I would break my neck all they want. There's no backlash from me. Hate can't drive out hate. Only love can drive out hate."
Detractors accuse protesting players of being unpatriotic or disrespecting the American flag. Marshall said he's also gotten lots of love from military veterans saying they fought for his right to peacefully protest as much as they did for those who stand and salute the Stars and Stripes.
Marshall played at Nevada with Kaepernick, who began this movement last month by refusing to stand for the anthem during San Francisco's preseason games as a protest to racial oppression and police brutality in the United States.
While Kaepernick saw sales of his jersey skyrocket, Marshall has faced financial repercussions for taking a knee during the national anthem on opening night.
Marshall lost endorsements from the Air Academy Federal Credit Union and CenturyLink before music mogul Russell Simmons offered him a deal with Rushcard this week.
"So, I lost two endorsements and gained one," said Marshall, insisting it was better to have a single company standing behind him than two so quick to bail.
"When you really think about it, I didn't breach my contract. I didn't get arrested. I didn't do anything to defame the team or CenturyLink or Air Academy. I just exercised my first amendment rights," Marshall said. "And they dropped me for that. I'm proud of what I did because I didn't do anything wrong or hurtful by any stretch."
That's not what many critics are telling him and others who have joined Kaepernick.
Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane and 49ers safety Eric Reid took a knee in support of Kaepernick in the preseason. Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters raised a black-gloved fist during the anthem Sunday in a scene reminiscent of U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
Four Dolphins kneeled on the sideline with their hands on their hearts as "The Star Spangled Banner" played in Seattle: running back Arian Foster, safety Michael Thomas, wide receiver Kenny Stills and linebacker Jelani Jenkins. Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, cornerback Jason McCourty and linebacker Wesley Woodyard raised their right fists after the national anthem ended.
'I love America'
McCourty's brother, Devin, raised his fist along with Martellus Bennett before New England's win in Arizona. Defensive end Robert Quinn and receiver Kenny Britt of the Rams also stood with their fists in the air Monday night.
"We waited until after the national anthem," explained Bennett, who was born on a Navy base in San Diego. "I support the flag. I love America. I don't want to live anywhere else. But there's still some [messed up things] going on around the world."
He said he wasn't worried about any consequences, financial or otherwise.
"What you can do for humanity and society is a lot bigger than a dollar you can get," Bennett said. "It shows you how big it is that guys are willing to lose their endorsement to bring attention."
Foster said the NFL players are the latest conduit for a message that's been out there for decades.
"It's more important to create a healthy dialogue," Foster said. "It's easy for you to sit here and say 'Shut up you stupid n———' instead of saying 'Why do you feel like that?' It's just so easy to hate. If you really proclaim to be a true American, freedom runs in our bloodline, right? It's supposed to. If somebody's telling you they don't feel like they're free, why don't you listen to them?"
'Flag is a symbol'
President Barack Obama has who said it's a constitutional right to protest peacefully. But the players have been targeted on Twitter, insulted on Instagram, and ridiculed in public.
Marshall's lost deals are the only known endorsements pulled over the protests.
"I don't have a lot of endorsements ... so I'm not really worried about losing endorsements," said Tennessee's McCourty, who has a deal along with his twin brother to promote Palmer's Cocoa Butter.
Marshall, who has pledged to donate to military charities, met with Denver police chief Robert White this week. Marshall accepted his invitation to participate in a shoot-or-don't-shoot training simulator and to go on a ride-along with police officers.
"Kneeling really was just to bring attention to the issues, an awareness factor — a symbol — so to speak," said Marshall. "Just like the flag is a symbol."