Players from the Baltimore Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars knelt during the playing of the United States national anthem in London on Sunday in the first NFL game to be held since US president Donald Trump condemned players who are protesting against racial inequality.
Several players from both teams took a knee during the rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner as it was sang at Wembley Stadium while other players stood and locked arms in solidarity.
It was one of the largest protests by NFL players during the national anthem since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first began refusing to stand for the anthem in 2016.
Further action, following the Wembley event, which was won by the Jaguars 44-0, came in a number of the early NFL games which were played on Sunday across the US.
The Pittsburgh Steelers waited off the field during the national anthem before their game against the Chicago Bears in Chicago to avoid “playing politics” in divisive times, coach Mike Tomlin said.
And in Philadelphia, city police officers joined with Eagles players and team owner Jeffrey Lurie to link arms during the anthem in a sign of solidarity before their game with the New York Giants.
Sunday’s protests came after Trump triggered uproar at a rally in Alabama on Friday by saying that players who protested during the anthem should be dismissed.
Trump’s remarks drew widespread criticism from across the NFL with players, owners and league chiefs lining up to condemn his tirade.
An unrepentant Trump stood by his comments yesterday, however, repeating his demand for players to be fired and urging fans to boycott games if the protests continued.
“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our flag and country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
“... NFL attendance and ratings are way down. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back US.”
Steve Bisciotti, the owner of the Ravens, was among a number of leading NFL officials to speak in support of the players having the right to protest and take which ever action they felt appropriate.
In a statement released prior to the action at Wembley, Bisciotti wrote: “We recognise our players’ influence. We respect their demonstration and support them 100 per cent.
“All voices need to be heard. That’s democracy in its highest form.”
Robert Kraft, the chief executive of the New England Patriots, said on Twitter that he supported his players’ “right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner they feel is most impactful”.
The NFL is not the only sporting franchise in the US to have been targeted by Trump in recent days.
In an early morning Twitter message on Saturday, the president rescinded a White House invitation to Stephen Curry, who had said he would “vote” against the planned visit by the NBA champions Golden State Warriors.
“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” Trump tweeted.
Curry told a news conference, he was disappointed by the response. “It’s beneath the leader of a country to go that route,” he said.
Meanwhile, on Saturday evening, Oakland Athletics player Bruce Maxwell became the first baseball player to kneel for the national anthem ahead of his side’s MLB home game against the Texas Rangers.