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Justin Simmons says decision to kneel or stand won't divide team

Broncos safety: Just because some teammates may not take knee during National Anthem doesn't mean "they're not in support of their brothers on team."
Denver Broncos players, including Jamaal Charles (28) kneel during the national anthem prior to an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Justin Simmons said Thursday even if there’s not unanimous consent among players to kneel during the National Anthem this season, there is greater universal awareness on the issue of racial inequalities.

Go back to the third game of the Broncos’ 2017 season at Buffalo. President Trump had just referred to NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem as “S.O.B.’s” during a political rally in Alabama. That set off an NFL protest in which many players kneeled during the playing of the National Anthem prior to week 3.

It  became markedly polarizing as some took offense to what they believed was an act disrespectful of the American flag and others who said kneeling during the Anthem was not disrespecting the flag but raising awareness of racial inequality.

Three years later, the Black Lives Matter movement has welcomed a far larger percentage of professional athletes, of all races, to its cause.

During the Buffalo game in 2017, about 30 to 35 players among the 55 to 60 players on the Broncos’ sidelines took a knee.

In 2020? Training camp is in its early stages where COVID-19 protocols and football itself have dominated players’ mindsets. But does Simmons, who did his part as a Civil Rights activist this offseason, have a feel for how the Broncos will approach the Star Spangled Banner this year?

“I don’t,’’ Simmons, a Broncos’ starting safety, said in a Zoom video call with the media Thursday. “I think from my perspective, for the guys that want to take a knee -- we’ve seen so many more people now being accepting of, “Hey, I understand. I see your pains. And maybe I’ll take a knee with you.’

“But even if you decide to not take a knee -- speaking to some teammates that may decide, “Hey, the knee is not for me’ -- that doesn’t mean they’re not in support of their brothers on the team that are.

“I don’t think it’s a thing where if I take a knee that’s the only right way to do it and if I don’t take a knee that means I’m against it. I think the vast majority of the situation is to realize that we do have racial inequalities that are happening and we are trying to find the best way possible to make sure we’re using our platform in a positive way to spread the message and spread the awareness.’’

 Simmons did somewhat zero in on his preference.

“If you’re asking for my opinion, I’d love to see unity in it – one decision making or the other,’’ he said. “But just because a couple guys decided to do it and a couple guys decide not to do it, I don’t think there’s a divide in that. I think everyone is entitled to their opinion and their way of protesting.”

The Broncos’ first game is Monday, September 14 against the Tennessee Titans in a night game that will be played -- either in front a small group of fans or none at all -- at Empower Field at Mile High.

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