Kneeling Ravens catch anger, support from NFL fans

By Kevin G. McGuire and Sarah Thompson
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers

Baltimore residents Donna Strobel and Sandy Coho, both prominently dressed in American Flag T-shirts and wigs, walked out of their second-row seats at M&T Bank Stadium at the start of yesterday’s Ravens-Steelers game.

Coho says they also attended the Ravens game in London last week, and walked out of that one as well.

Their reason?  Kneeling players.

“It made me so mad I didn’t even watch the rest of the game,” Strobel said.

Donna Strobel (left) and Sandy Coho (right) pose in front of Ray Lewis’ statute at Ravens stadium Sunday afternoon. The two ladies had walked out in protest of the players kneeling both here and in London last Sunday. Photo by Sarah Thompson.

Donna Strobel (left) and Sandy Coho (right) pose in front of Ray Lewis’ statue at Ravens stadium Sunday afternoon. The two ladies had walked out in protest of the players kneeling both here and in London last Sunday. Photo by Sarah Thompson.

The Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars made headlines by kneeling during the national anthem before their game in London last week. Others locked arms in protest of last Friday’s speech in Alabama by President Trump, who asked that NFL owners fire players who did not stand for the Star Spangled Banner.

Other NFL teams also protested during their games during Week 3 of the NFL season. The Steelers stood in the team tunnel for the anthem, save for offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, and the Bears, Browns and Bills also knelt and joined arms before their games.

Week 4’s games saw a much different reaction from NFL players, as both the Ravens and Steelers took part in a prayer before the anthem, then stood for the anthem itself.

Fans attending Week 4’s game in Baltimore had mixed reactions to players taking a knee as a form of protest against police brutality against African Americans and other social justice issues.

“I’m not offended by the players kneeling at all,” Coho said. “[But] we have come to watch football, not for them to express their opinions.”

Many fans who were interviewed outside M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday said they felt the players disrespected the American flag by kneeling during the anthem.

“I think it’s up to the individual,” said Robert Brown of South Carolina. “But as a service member I feel it’s disrespectful to the flag.”

“I’m not a Ravens fan, but I think kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful,” said Jack Chandler of North Carolina. “The constitution gives them that right, but at the same time I think they are being disrespectful to those who have served in our military.”

Mike Chernesky of Baltimore said he thinks the controversy has more to do with President Trump than the players. He said Trump’s tweets against NFL players kneeling reflects badly on the country’s service men and women.

Baltimore resident Henry Tuck said kneeling is “ridiculous and not patriotic whatsoever.”

Some Ravens fans also felt that politics should stay out of football and that there is a time and place for both.

“I feel that there is a time and place for politics and that during a football game is not it,” said Rick Carico, a Ravens fan.

“They can protest wherever they want, but not when I’m paying their paycheck,” said Mary Smith, a fellow fan walking into the stadium.

In a statement early Sunday morning in Week 3, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti responded to  Trump’s speech and foreshadowed the events in London by issuing a statement supporting his players.

“We recognize our players’ influence,” Bisciotti said in a tweet. “We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent.  All voices need to be heard.  That’s democracy in its highest form.”

Fans walk toward Ravens Stadium Sunday afternoon. Photo by Sarah Thompson.

Fans walk toward Ravens stadium Sunday afternoon. Photo by Sarah Thompson.

Other fans showed support for Bisciotti and other team managers who backed their player’s actions during Weeks 3 and 4.

“Everyone has a right to their opinion, because that is what the flag is about,” said Steelers fan DeeDee Carter, who lives in Virginia. “The flag is a symbol of unity of all Americans, of any race.”

Other fans saw the protests as a continuation of Colin Kaepernick’s prominent statement last year when he began kneeling during San Francisco 49er games to protest racial injustice.

Kaepernick, a quarter back who led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2014, opted out of his contract with the 49ers last March but has not been able to find a place on another team’s roster.

“I believe that any American citizen has the right to stand up for what he or she believes in, but this entire spotlight issue started by Colin Kapernick has been blown to extreme proportions,” said Cameron Russell, a Steelers fan from Bel Air. “What started as a peaceful protest against racial discrimination and injustice against black people, and black people alone, has turned into a disrespectful challenge to our nation’s historical significance.”

“People are just looking at the vehicle, and not the person and his reasoning behind it,” said John James, a former service member from Howard County. “[Kaepernick] did it to bring awareness to all people of color being unjustly targeted in today’s society.”

Other fans agreed, noting the meaning behind the player’s kneeling might be lost on other fans.

“If people are against [the kneeling], they are oblivious to the reason why they are kneeling,” said Laura Buzzell of Howard County. “It means they are oblivious to the injustices going on in our country.”

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