For NFL players whose roster spots are secure, using the national anthem as a vehicle for protesting or highlighting a cause entails little professional risk. For players on the bubble, it’s a different issue altogether.
On Thursday, Bills offensive tackle Cameron Jefferson — who has bounced from team to team in three years and hasn’t appeared in a regular-season game — decided to throw caution completely to the wind and raise a fist, motivated by the example set by Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and Eagles defensive end Chris Long, who placed an arm on Jenkins’ shoulder during the anthem.
“I saw him across the field and I felt inspired to do the same and follow suit,” Jefferson said Friday, via Matthew Fairburn of nyup.com. “I feel like it’s my duty as an athlete with my platform to do anything I can to help people in need against police brutality in the black and brown communities. I was already thinking about it but something in my gut and my spirit said, ‘Go ahead, Cam. You can do it.'”
But what about the potential impact on his ability to earn a place on the 53-man roster?
“[W]hen you’re doing the right thing and doing good, I feel like God’s going to take care of you and protect you no matter what,” Jefferson said.
Based on Sunday comments from coach Sean McDermott, Jefferson won’t need protection from his employer.
“Cam and I spoke about it,” McDermott told reporters. “We spoke about it yesterday and then we talked about it as a team today. What I want all of our players to understand is that we are going to support them, number one. Everyone obviously has their view on things and I think the key word here is respect. We respect Cam’s opinion. We respect and acknowledge what’s going on, and it’s important that we can communicate and a big part of communication is listening and I did a lot of listening yesterday. That was very healthy. We had a good conversation this morning as a team about it, and I thought it was a healthy meeting and conversation. I think that, again, the key word in all of this is respect. Respect this situation, respect the communication end of things moving forward, and then respect the process of what’s going on in this country and this world.”
So what does McDermott think about other Bills players potentially joining Jefferson?
“Well, like I said, it all to me comes down to respect,” McDermott said. “When a player, or anyone in this case, takes an initiative to make a stand for something if it’s ethical, I want them to know that I’m going to support them and we’re going to support them. Again, it gets down to the respect word and we respect what’s going on, we respect, in this case, Cam’s decision, and then the process that’s going on around all of us. We acknowledge it. I think that’s healthy when you do that. That’s part of real life.”
It’s the kind of clear, simple message that others who have spoken on the matter in recent days probably wish, in hindsight, they’d sent, both to those inside the locker room and those on the outside. And maybe the absence of a knee-jerk, finger-pointing reaction from McDermott will help others realize that maybe it makes sense to understand why the protests are happening before condemning those who are conscientiously participating, especially when they are assuming significant risk to their financial well-being.