RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
OK, the NFL preseason continues, and so do player protests during the national anthem. There were a handful of demonstrations over the weekend. NPR's Tom Goldman reports that even though the protests weren't especially fiery, they are still stirring up feelings in the stands.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: At this time, we ask that you please rise. And, gentlemen, kindly remove your caps.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: In 2018, the call to stand for the national anthem at an NFL stadium has become more than a timeless pregame ritual. Saturday night in Carson, Calif., before the host Los Angeles Chargers took on the Seattle Seahawks, the call became an unintended invitation to scan the field, looking for a player kneeling, raising a fist or missing from the sidelines.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing) And the home of the brave.
GOLDMAN: It wasn't until the rousing anthem ended that three members of the Seahawks jogged onto the field to join their teammates. Like several other players around the league this past week, this trio skipped the anthem to send another message. I spoke to one of the three, offensive tackle Duane Brown, after the game.
DUANE BROWN: There hasn't been much progression made in our fight for equality and injustices done. That's the message.
GOLDMAN: It's hard to know if that message of seeking social equality and justice for minorities is resonating. In 2016, former player Colin Kaepernick was the first to send the message via protest during the anthem. But now the discussion is more a debate about the protesting itself and whether it's a slap at the military and patriotism. At the stadium in Carson, that was illustrated literally on the back of 83-year-old Marvin Wear's wheelchair. He hung a framed picture of two cartoon drawings, one a marine sitting in a wheelchair saluting, the other Colin Kaepernick.
MARVIN WEAR: It's a picture of a marine with his legs shot off. And sitting next to him is a football player sitting on a water keg. And I believe that marine would love to stand up. And I believe that football player can but won't do it.
GOLDMAN: Wear, a Navy veteran, says it's the players right not to stand. But by protesting during the anthem, he thinks they've picked the wrong place to in his words start their battle. LA resident Tim Lawson doesn't see it that way.
TIM LAWSON: Right now it has to start somewhere. We have to start putting it on people's minds somewhere.
GOLDMAN: Lawson and his cousin Perry Bellinger were at the game. They're both African-American and understand the players' battle. Seventy percent of NFL players are black. Most of the protesters are, too. But Lawson and Bellinger also are military vets. And they say they love the flag and the anthem. They got to the game late. Bellinger says they could hear the anthem as they walked from their car.
PERRY BELLINGER: Now, I stopped. I stopped moving in the parking lot. But I see all these other people still walking. Are these the people saying that we're protesting the national anthem, but you won't stop? Everybody should stand still.
GOLDMAN: Lawson does, but not at NFL games. He says he won't stand until NFL owners do more to address what the issues really are. Owners have pledged millions to social issues important to the players. But since then, relations between the two sides chilled. In May, owners decided to make players stand for the anthem. That policy's been suspended as they try to reach a compromise. If a Saturday night in Carson is any indication, bridging the divide won't be easy. Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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