ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- President Trump singled out NFL athletes on Friday, telling owners they should "fire" any player who kneels during the national anthem, while encouraging fans to walk out of stadiums.
The NFL players responded with a clear message on Sunday, protesting through a variety of methods before their games. Only 19 Broncos players stood for the anthem before their game against the Buffalo Bills, according to Denver7's count. Multiple sources told Denver7 those kneeling were responding directly to Trump's remarks before an audience in Alabama on Friday.
Receiver Emmanuel Sanders was among the most vocal on social media, saying he initially encouraged his relatives to give Trump's presidency a chance, but now he is "highly disappointed" in Trump and that his words were "intolerant and inhuman."
Coach Vance Joseph addressed the team on Saturday night, telling the players the organization had their back. On Saturday night, CEO Joe Ellis issued a statement on the issue. By Sunday morning, 20 teams had made a statement.
"Our players have shown a tremendous commitment to raising awareness for important societal issues by using their platform in a positive way. In addition to their hard work off the field, we have great admiration for their dedication to making our team the absolute best it can be. They've made incredible sacrifices to reach this level, and we recognize they give their all to our team and fans each and every day," Ellis said. "As an organization, we could not be more proud, appreciative and grateful for our players. We'll continue to support them and work together to advocate for values of respect, diversity and inclusion."
Prior to Sunday's game, Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe told ESPN he would stand for the anthem, which he did, as a way of "paying tribute to the men and women who have given their lives for our freedom," while adding, “everyone these days likes to find a reason to protest and that’s their right.”
Trump's comments trace back to last season when current free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling in the preseason during the anthem to raise awareness for social injustice.
Trump weighed in on the issue on Friday, triggering an emotional response by a large number of players.
“(Kneeling) is a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for,” Trump told a rally Friday in Alabama, where he was campaigning for Republican Sen. Luther Strange. "Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell answered, saying Trump's words demonstrated "a lack of respect for the NFL, our great game, and all of our players."
Broncos offensive lineman Max Garcia, in response to Trump's remarks, tweeted Saturday, “where was this passion in response to Charlottesville.” Garcia was among the majority of Broncos players who took a knee during the anthem.