Miami Dolphins wide receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson were the first players of the first NFL Sunday of the season to take a knee during the national anthem.
The Dolphins defensive end, Robert Quinn, raised a fist during the anthem. The Dolphins played against the Tennessee Titans, and Stills later scored the first touchdown of the season for his team.
The first NFL Sunday of the season kicked off with almost as much suspense over whether players would take a knee during the national anthem, as there is over which teams will cover the Vegas point spread.
But before the first games on Sunday, player protests were few, according to USA Today.
The season’s first full slate of games came just days after apparel giant Nike aired its highly anticipated “Just Do It” ad featuring former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, known for his social protests – mainly in the form of taking a knee — during the NFL season opener Thursday night.
The decision by Nike to spotlight Kaepernick drew a huge mixed reaction, with his supporters praising the company, and opponents blasting the move and taking to social media to show photos and videos of Nike products being dumped or damaged.
The Nike endorsement deal with Kaepernick racheted up the tensions nationwide over the decision of some NFL players to follow Kaepernick’s lead and refuse to stand for the national anthem to call attention to social injustice, including police brutality. Those who have assailed players who refuse to stand for the anthem say they are being unpatriotic.
Leading up to the start of the games on Sunday, tweets reflected the diversity of feelings about the issue, which has prompted some broadcasters to avoid showing the anthem live before the games.
Some fans tweeted that while they supported the right of NFL players to express their feelings, they resented their decision to do it during a game, and spoiling the fun of it for viewers.
Cameron Grant @coolcambackup tweeted: “I respect Colin Kaepernick and NFL players right to protest every day of the week, but not an NFL field. I understand players are not protesting the American flag or national anthem, but they disrespect the integrity of the game by turning fans away from the sport.”
NFL ratings have been down, which experts attribute to the tensions over the player protests. NBC ratings for the Atlanta Falcons–Philadelphia Eagles season opener Thursday were 13 percent lower than expected. Last NFL regular season, ratings were down nearly 10 percent.
Some fans, meanwhile, defended players who take a knee.
(((DeanObeidallah))) tweeted: “As a person who truly believes in freedom of expression I hope during national anthem today that the NFL players stand, kneel, stay in the locker room or respond in any way they so feel. Freedom of expression means just that -they have the freedom to decide.”
Many fans, however, had their minds on chicken wings and beer, and ignored the controversy.
Aliquickk @Aliquickk tweeted: “Today is very much Christmas in September for football fans. The excitement, energy, and butterflies are swirling: just as they did as a kid on Christmas mornings. It’s time for the first NFL Sunday of the year! Let’s go!!!”
President Trump, who has been a vocal critic of the player protest, weighed in on Sunday before the games began, warning that NFL ratings would go down even more if the networks do not show the anthem live and if players continue to refuse to stand during the ceremony.
ESPN reported that the NFL is likely not to establish a new policy on the national anthem this season.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.