Without kneeling or sitting during the national anthem, several Carolina Panthers players found ways to speak up about the social issues they care about.
Running back Jonathan Stewart joined linebacker Thomas Davis in clasping his palms in front of his face in prayer. Davis started the gesture last week and said he will continue “praying for America” during the anthem as the season continues.
Linebacker Shaq Thompson wore custom cleats that were painted to feature a black hand shaking a white hand, and the words “stay united, not divided” and “#staywoke” on them.
“As a country, we need to stay united,” Thompson said after the game, a 33-30 Panthers victory over the New England Patriots. “Football, or any type of sport, brings people together. We can’t have one thing separate us. We have to come together and stay together, and fight through this stuff. We have to read between the lines of what is going on, on how certain people are trying to distract us from certain things and lead us to something else. When really, they’re taking away from the bigger picture.
“So that’s my thing, that’s what I’m rolling with. As a country, we need to stay united whatever race or color you are, whatever religion you are. We just all are part of the United States.”
Several Panthers players also put hands on each others’ shoulders as the anthem played.
“For the two hours, three hours, whenever a time that a sporting event is on or your team is playing, we know that a lot of people from different shapes, colors, creeds, ethnicities and cultures come together,” quarterback Cam Newton said after the game. “At that moment, they’re rooting for the same thing. We try to unify people with that, and that’s all it is.
“Unity is something that is going to cure a bad mentality in this country, and I feel as if we all stick together, if we all come together and listen, hear, speak, we can better help the situation.”
Newton also raised his fist in what he later confirmed was the black power salute after scoring a rushing touchdown, before doing his usual “Superman” gesture.
“I pray every night for God to give me a pinnacle to give people hope,” Newton said. “I did it to raise – to show black pride because I am an African-American, but more or less, I want all people just to see when I play, I want them to see the joy that I go out there and play with.”