NFL Anthem Protests Draw Comments From Rivera, Earnhardt And NASCAR Owners

Sep 25, 2017

Updated 4:55 p.m.
More than a dozen New Orleans Saints knelt during the National Anthem before Sunday's game at Bank of America stadium, but no Carolina Panthers joined them. Protests around the NFL this weekend came in response to President Trump's comment that players should be fired if they kneel during the anthem. Panthers Coach Ron Rivera said Monday the protests aren't disrespectful.

Carolina Panthers Coach Ron Rivera talked about National Anthem protests at a press conference Monday.
Credit Panthers.com

"A lot of these players want to stand up against bigotry and injustice and a lot of the bad things going on. And I think that they deserve to have the right forum and to have put in the right context for them," Rivera said at his Monday afternoon weekly press conference.

"But I think everybody's got to understand that these young men, they believe in supporting the military and what they all stand for, and the first responders. And I just hope people don't try to say that when a young man does what he does, that he's disrespecting those people, ’cause they're not," Rivera said.

Defensive end Julius Peppers stayed in the locker room during the anthem - in protest.  

Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson put out his own statement later Monday afternoon:

"We are proud of the men we have on this football team. Our players have been active and impactful participants in making our community stronger. From the first time I stepped into an NFL locker room at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore in 1959, I have lived and seen the sport’s ability to bring people of all backgrounds together. Politicizing the game is damaging and takes the focus off the greatness of the game itself and those who play it."

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Credit Matt Sullivan / Getty Images/NASCAR

DALE EARNHARDT CHIMES IN

Meanwhile, the debate over the NFL protests spilled over into NASCAR Monday, with public statements by team owners, race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and NASCAR.

Earnhardt posted on Twitter that he thinks all Americans have the right to protest peacefully. He went on to quote the late president John F. Kennedy: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

His tweet came a day after team owners Richard Petty and Richard Childress said they would fire anyone who didn’t stand up for the anthem.

On Monday, NASCAR put out a statement that didn’t really take a stand. One the one hand, the group said: "Our respect for the national anthem has always been a hallmark of our pre-race events."

But NASCAR also echoed Earnhardt, saying that thanks to the sacrifices of many, Americans have the right to peacefully express their opinions.

Earnhardt has been the sport’s most popular driver for 14 straight years and has spoken out before.  In 2015, he supported the decision to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse. He plans to retire at the end of this season.