The NFL take-a-knee protests dropped off dramatically Sunday, with all but a handful of players standing for the national anthem as teams pulled out the stops to honor the military for Veterans Day.
As of Sunday afternoon, only three players — the San Francisco 49ers’ Eric Reid and Marquise Goodwin and the New York Giants’ Olivier Vernon — had refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That was down from 15 players the week before, according to the ESPN tally.
The three represented the lowest number of kneelers since Week One of the NFL season, when three players sat or took a knee during the national anthem.
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who has refused to stand all season in a protest against racial and social injustice, told reporters that he made an exception for Veterans Day.
“It was to signify that we are all with the military and that we love them,” Bennett told the Tacoma [Washington] News Tribune after Thursday’s game. “There’s been this narrative that we don’t care about the military. Today we were honoring the military.”
The pro-military celebrations came amid calls to boycott the NFL for Veterans Day over the take-a-knee protests.
In a joint statement, the NFL and NFLPA said Saturday that there was “no change” in its national-anthem policy, which says players “should” stand but does not require them to do so.
Still, there was plenty of patriotic feeling at the Week 10 games, which were marked by ceremonies to commemorate the military as part of the NFL’s Salute to Service month.
At least two teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Washington Redskins, invited hundreds of new military recruits to take their oath of enlistment on the field.
Players were joined by military personnel as they ran out of their tunnels before the games; coaches and cheerleaders wore camouflage gear, and camouflage Salute to Service ribbons decorated items including footballs, helmets, pylons and goal-post wraps.
Players wore helmet decals honoring military branches. Each player on the Atlanta Falcons wore a helmet decal with the initials of a fallen hero.
Some celebrations were more spontaneous. After a touchdown, Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate gave a four-way salute from the end zone to the fans.
The NFL said it would donate $5 to its military non-profit partners, including the Pat Tillman Foundation, the USO, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and the Wounded Warrior Project, for every #SalutetoService tweet.
“Honoring the military is part of the fabric of the NFL,” said the league in a statement. “This support takes place both at home and abroad, with NFL players and coaches traveling overseas to salute the troops, as well as with team recognition of our servicemen and women through the NFL’s Salute to Service.”
Since 2011, the NFL said it has raised more than $17 million for charity through its Salute to Service program.
The ESPN count on those kneeling came before the Sunday night game between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, all of whose players have stood for the anthem in recent weeks.
The Monday night game could bring up the total: Playing the Carolina Panthers are the Miami Dolphins, whose team includes three players who have frequently taken a knee during the anthem.