As the 2018 NFL season kicked off in earnest last weekend, a few players continued their silent protests of police brutality and systemic racism during the national anthem—undeterred by the complaints of Donald Trump.
One of those men was Kenny Stills, a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins. Stills, along with his teammate and fellow receiver Albert Wilson, took a knee during the national anthem last Sunday as he has every game since 2016. He’s made it clear that he will not stop doing it.
“We started the protest two years ago now—three years ago now—and we’re not going anywhere,” Stills told reporters last Sunday after the team’s win over the Tennessee Titans. “It’s not going to change. Activism isn’t something you just kind of get involved in and then turn your back on it.
“Once your eyes are open to some of the things that are happening, you continue to work and try and grow and create change for the rest of your life,” Stills added, “so this is something I’m committed to forever.”
My Brothers @kstills and @ithinkisee12 continue to show their unwavering strength by fighting for the oppressed! They have not backed down, even when attacked and intimidated. Their courage will move the world forward!
“Love is at the root of our resistance!”✊? pic.twitter.com/2kSsX4s7EU
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 9, 2018
Stills and Wilson, along with Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch—who sat during the anthem on Monday night, were the only players to protest during Week 1, according to ESPN. The protests were first inspired by exiled former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick and became a major issue over the past two seasons as people wrongfully claim the protests are anti-military.
Stills, Wilson and a group of Dolphins cheerleaders spent Thursday with wounded veterans. He and Wilson were warmly received by the vets as Stills says that despite the misinformation campaign by most conservatives, the vets get what the protests are all about.
“To see and know that veterans understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Stills said to the Palm Beach Post, “we’re not against them. And it’s never been about that. Like I said before this has never been about the military or the flag or the police.
“There were a couple of instances of people being very thankful and encouraging me to continue to protest,” Stills added. “And there were also people that I think were a little bit more afraid to say it in front of some of the cameras and people that were around.”
It even drew praise from an unlikely source: Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
No @NFL player does more community service than @KStills of the @MiamiDolphins. You don’t have to agree with how or why he has chosen to exercise the 1st Amendment before every game to acknowledge the hours he gives voluntarily,on his day off,to serve his fellow Americans. https://t.co/3C7IL4sztP
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) September 12, 2018
The NFL has backed away from penalizing players for protesting injustice while they work with the NFL Player’s Association on establishing a protocol. Stills hopes more players join in kneeling during the national anthem to call attention to police brutality.
“Obviously I would be encouraged to see more guys participating in the protest but I understand that everybody makes their own decision,” Stills said. “It’s never been about what other guys are doing. I understand my position and what I’m standing for, what I’m standing up for, and I’ll continue to do that.”