Russell Okung urges NFL players to produce organised response to anthem protest
Last Updated: 13/10/17 1:49pm
Los Angeles Chargers lineman Russell Okung has urged fellow NFL players to respond collectively to criticism over their anthem protest.
Okung penned an open letter titled "Let's Get Organised" on The Players Tribune on Friday detailing his thoughts, admitting his original doubt about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee was wrong and saying that the initial reasoning behind the protest had become muddled.
Team owners are scheduled to meet in New York next week to discuss the protests, started last season by then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Kaepernick over social injustice and police brutality in the US, which have recently been the subject of a high-profile intervention from US president Donald Trump.
Owners will consider whether to enforce league rules stating players must be on the sidelines during the anthem and that they should be standing, Trump having said last month players who kneel or sit are disrespecting the US flag and military and going as far as saying they should be fired.
As well as those visible on-field protests, some players have also stayed in the locker room while the anthem was being played, with more than a hundred players involved at some point this season most notably in week four after Trump's statement.
Okung's message to owners hints at dissatisfaction from players that they have not been fully consulted about their decision to protest and said he wanted to get the original subject of the protest back on topic.
"We can either wait until we receive our respective marching orders, speak up individually, or find a way to collaborate, and exercise our agency as the lifeblood of the league," Okung wrote. "We're honing our voice. We're not unified against Trump, we're unified against social injustice.
"Things have clearly gotten out of control. As a pragmatist, I will admit, I initially doubted the merits of Colin Kaepernick's protest and questioned the strategy. I was wrong.
"As Kap's message has now been distorted, co-opted and used to further divide us along the very racial lines he was highlighting, we as players have a responsibility to come together and respond collectively.
"There is now no doubt that what he started was courageous, prophetic, self-sacrificial act that has captivated a nation and inspired a powerful movement," he added. "If I had his cell phone number, I would tell him that.
"Currently, the will of the players who align with Kap's message is being diluted. Rather than our collective voice prevailing in a way that spans the league, you are seeing individual teams respond separately to the protest in 32 different ways. It's telling that these decisions are being made at the team level and not being driven by the interests of the players collectively.
"Some teams are standing and locking arms. Some are staying in the locker room. And some are now being banned from protesting altogether. While many of us can be grateful that our ownership groups don't take direct orders from the President, we are also aware that the owners are much more united than we are as players.
"I don't have all the answers, but I'm hoping to help facilitate some practical next steps by first addressing our limited ability to communicate. I look forward to hearing from you on the President's favourite medium. Until then, stay strong."