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Despite far more support, kneeling might not be widespread

NFL players who want to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racism have far more support than Colin Kaepernick did four years ago.

Still, it might not be widespread for a few reasons.

If organizations insist on unity, as some coaches and front-office executives have mentioned, that could be a hurdle.

Another potential drawback is the growing belief among some players that kneeling is no longer necessary to raise awareness because George Floyd’s death has ignited nationwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality.

Lastly, some owners might still have an issue with it despite the league’s support of the players.

“Whatever our team ends up doing, we’re gonna support. But we’re gonna do it together as a team,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said.

Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur and several other coaches also expressed their support of the players, but mentioned they want it to be a team decision.

“That’s something that I promise you we will spend as much time as necessary as an organization listening to each other, understanding each other, and then we’ll make a decision together,” Stefanski said.

Said LaFleur: “We’re gonna support them and what they wanna do, provided that it’s peaceful.”

Redskins running back Adrian Peterson and Bears safety Jordan Lucas have already said they plan to take a knee for “The Star-Spangled Banner” this season. Other players, white and black, are waiting to discuss it with their teammates.

Getting an entire roster to agree collectively is a tough task regardless of the topic. Starting quarterbacks Jared Goff of the Rams and Matt Ryan of the Falcons, both white, recognize the importance of standing together.

“I stand fully behind whatever it is that’s decided, and I do want to push for change, so I’m fully behind whatever the leaders on the team decide to do, and I’ll be part of that discussion as well," Rams quarterback Jared Goff said. "We’ll come to a decision collaboratively.”

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is eager to have those conversations.

“It’s about unity within our team and having that discussion and creating an open forum for teammates to talk about what that means to them and how they’re going to act appropriately,” Ryan said.

Many players have said they’re willing to do whatever their team decides. But not everyone agrees it has to be a team decision.

“It should definitely be left up to the individual,” Lucas said.

Richard Sherman understands all of his 49ers teammates aren’t going to handle it the same.

“To each their own,” the three-time All-Pro cornerback said. “People will empathize with one another and have that brotherhood even if they don’t protest the same way.”

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes looks at the bigger picture.

“It’s not about who kneels and who doesn’t, it’s about having the right to peacefully protest, and knowing that racial inequality happens every day, and I just want the community to be where everybody, including the black community, can be safe,” he said. “Whatever that takes.”

When Kaepernick began his peaceful demonstration in 2016, he wanted to highlight the problems of police brutality and racial injustice. He faced immense pushback and was ostracized from the league. President Donald Trump criticized Kaepernick and other players who took a knee and still insists they’re disrespecting the flag, the country and the military.

While many others, including Drew Brees, who initially shared similar thoughts have come to understand and support Kaepernick’s intentions, there’s still going to be opposition.

“I don’t know if (kneeling) will have the most net positive outcome because of the way it gets so, such a hyper-partisan issue, really because they don’t want to talk about the real issue,” Chargers running back Justin Jackson said. “Nevertheless, I think if we just use our platforms like we are now to continue to expose and advocate for the change we want to see in society, that might be the best method going forward. But we’ll see.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week in a video condemned racism, apologized to players for not listening to them earlier, and encouraged them to protest peacefully.

But Goodell only consulted with “a select few” owners and it’s not known how many share his views. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones strongly opposed kneeling when Kaepernick began the movement and he hasn’t spoken on the issue.

“We’ll have to see,” Dallas cornerback Jourdan Lewis said about Jones backing off his stance. “We always come together as a team and we talk about these issues. And it hasn’t been to a point to where we cut a guy because of that. So, we’ll have to see. Protesting is always the best bet to raise awareness. But we definitely have things to strive past this protest. And we have to go into these communities and help these people.”

Everyone agrees change is needed.

“Almost every single black guy that I’ve played with that is on the team right now. ... they’ve all dealt with something at some point, whether it’s with the police or another interaction of just blatant racism,” said Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. "So really it’s sickening to me that they have to deal with that type of thing, and I want it to change. I want it to change. I want everyone to get the justice and equality that they deserve.”

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AP Pro Football Writers Teresa M. Walker, Josh Dubow and Schuyler Dixon and AP Sports Writers Michael Marot, Andrew Seligman, Dave Skretta, Steve Megargee, Greg Beacham and Charles Odum contributed.

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