NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A trio of Tennessee Titans say they raised their right fists in the air after the national anthem ended to honor the victims and heroes of 9/11, and to bring attention to the ongoing unequal treatment of African-Americans and other minorities.
Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, cornerback Jason McCourty and linebacker Wesley Woodyard all had hands over their hearts during the anthem before Sunday's season opener against Minnesota. Seconds after the anthem ended, they raised their arms into the air in solidarity with protests around the league even though their gesture went unnoticed until Monday after a Sports Illustrated photo started circulating.
McCourty said Monday that they want to help bridge a gap in equality for everyone, specifically African-Americans.
"I don't want it to be taken as something that was us trying to separate people," McCourty said. "It was more trying to bring everyone together in solidarity trying to come up with a situation to better our country. We love it, but that doesn't mean that we don't have room for improvement."
San Francisco backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the first NFL player who chose to sit and take a knee during the anthem in preseason games to call attention to what he says is the oppression of blacks and other minorities.
U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who won the gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the 200-meter race at the 1968 Olympics appeared on the medal stands with raised, black-gloved fists throughout the U.S. national anthem in what they said was a "human rights salute."
On Sunday, Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters also raised a black-gloved fist during the national anthem, and four Miami Dolphins kneeled on the sideline with hands on their hearts as "The Star Spangled Banner" played in Seattle. McCourty's brother, Devin, raised his fist along Martellus Bennett before New England's win in Arizona on Sunday night.
McCourty, a New York native who was in the ninth grade in New Jersey on 9/11, said there's been a lot of talk among NFL players about the different ways to get their message across. His older brother served in the Gulf War, and his father also was in the military. So they chose to respect the anthem first, and McCourty said Monday the hope is these protests get people talking about how to solve the issues Kaepernick highlighted.
"Now moving forward, it's about getting in our communities and trying actually to make change and try to actually make an impact," McCourty said. "A single action on a Sunday isn't going to do anything, so I think now it's, what you do in the community throughout the weeks and throughout the next several months."
Casey said it was a last-minute decision, and he personally credited God for helping him believe it was the right thing to do.
"I'm just trying to echo what Kaepernick is doing ...," Casey said. "We're just trying to bring light on it. We want fairness, and we want justice for what's going on around the world with all the bad things that are going on. That's all this is about."
Woodyard, also a special teams captain, said there's no wrong or right way to protest.
"We're just trying to show our right that we're standing for our brothers out there, and we are," Woodyard said.
The trio also have the support and respect of coach Mike Mularkey, who noted they are leaders on this team.
"I know they're passionate about the cause, and so I'm supportive of them," Mularkey said.