Monday night's preseason game between the Browns and Giants won't be remembered because Cleveland eked out the win, but because 12 Browns players took a knee during the national anthem to protest social injustice. The group included tight end Seth DeValve, thought to be the first white player to kneel during the anthem.
DeValve, a 2016 fourth-round pick out of Princeton who is married to an African-American woman, said recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one woman dead and 19 injured, factored into his decision to join his teammates in protest. "I myself will be raising children that don't look like me, and I want to do my part as well to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now," DeValve said, via ESPN.com. "So I wanted to take the opportunity with my teammates during the anthem to pray for our country and also to draw attention to the fact that we have work to do."
DeValve's decision to kneel comes days after Seahawks center Justin Britt, who is white, stood next to kneeling teammate Michael Bennett and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"It saddens me that in 2017 we have to do something like that," DeValve said. "I personally would like to say that I love this country. I love our national anthem. I'm very grateful to the men and women who have given their lives and give a lot every day to protect this courtly and serve this country. I want to honor them as much as I can.
"The United States is the greatest country in the world. It is because it provides opportunities to citizens that no other country does. The issue is that it doesn't provide equal opportunity to everybody. I wanted to support my African-American teammates today who wanted to take a knee." Five more Browns' players stood nearby in solidarity and put their hands on the shoulders of those kneeling.
Last week, Browns coach Hue Jackson said that he didn't want his team to protest during the anthem, but he later clarified his remarks and said he wouldn't be against it if any of his player decided to kneel.
"My personal feeling is that over the last season, we've seen players come under unfair scrutiny for protesting during the anthem, mainly because the focus has become on whether or not a player is being disrespectful to the flag or military and not on the issue and cause attempting to be addressed by the protest," Jackson said in a statement. "The intent of my comments was not to discourage individual expression from our players in light of a cause that moves them to personal expression. I'm disheartened that I gave anyone that impression because I did not speak with enough clarity."
By Monday evening the Browns issued this statement: "As an organization, we have a profound respect for our country's national anthem, flag and the servicemen and servicewomen in the United States and abroad. We feel it's important for our team to join in this great tradition and special moment of recognition. At the same time we also respect the great liberties afforded by our country including the freedom of personal expression."
And Jackson told reporters after the game, "We respect our players; we respect the flag. Those guys came to me and talked to me about it before they ever made a decision to do it."
The players didn't know if this was a one-time event or if they'll protest during the anthem in the weeks to come.