“President Trump’s comments on Friday and subsequent tweets have further fueled the debate about players’ national anthem protests, and brought it to a new level.” – Mike Tirico
“He should apologize. They’re not ‘SOBs.’ They’re smart, thoughtful guys… and they want exactly what the President wants. They want a better America.” – Cris Collinsworth on President Trump and the NFL players
“It’s inadvertently created a new level of unity.” – Al Michaels
“(The NFL players) have the best interests of this country at heart.” – Tony Dungy
STAMFORD, Conn. – Sept. 24, 2017 – Following are highlights from Football Night in America, which aired prior to tonight’s Week 3 Sunday Night Football matchup between the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins. Mike Tirico opened the show live from inside FedEx Field in Landover, Md. Tirico was joined on site by the Sunday Night Football team of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.
Dan Patrick co-hosted Football Night, the most-watched studio show in sports, from NBC Sports Group’s Studio 1 in Stamford, Conn. He was joined by Super Bowl-winning head coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dungy; two-time Super Bowl winner Rodney Harrison; and NFL Insider Mike Florio of NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk. Paul Burmeister provided reports from Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., on the Seahawks-Titans game.
Football Night also featured Harrison’s interview Washington Redskins CB Josh Norman, and Oakland Raiders players’ and coaches’ comments on RB Marshawn Lynch. Click here for more on those segments.
Tonight’s program began with an in-depth discussion surrounding the comments made by President Donald Trump on Friday night regarding NFL players protesting during the national anthem, as well as how players, coaches, and owners responded to those comments during today’s games. Click here to watch the segment in its entirety.
ON NATIONAL ANTHEM PROTESTS
Tirico opening tonight’s program: “Tonight, Sunday Night Football is just outside Washington D.C., a place where politics and sports at times overlap. But never before have we seen something like what’s transpired over the last three days. President Trump’s comments on Friday and subsequent tweets have further fueled the debate about players’ national anthem protests, and brought it to a new level. After a day that featured an unprecedented number of expressions during the anthem, the day’s final game — between the Raiders and Redskins — will take place here at FedEx Field, just a few miles from the White House.”
Michaels: “Not only is it the overwhelming narrative in the NFL, it’s the overwhelming narrative in the country today. I took a look online at 15 newspapers. It’s on the front page of every newspaper. Everybody is talking about what happened. And you and I were talking last night about the fact this started over a year ago with Colin Kaepernick. I don’t want to say necessarily cooler heads were prevailing, but people were beginning to listen to each other, it was calming down a little bit, and then a match got thrown into the gas tank. And the one thing that I came away with today after watching these games is it’s galvanized the league – players, coaches, everybody. It’s inadvertently created a new level of unity.”
Tirico: “I just ran into DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA leader, and he talked about these protests, or these shows of support really is the better term, from the players, and there was that galvanizing – white, black, didn’t matter. The players seemed very unified together with the owners standing there with them very often, all because of the comments made by the President. (To Collinsworth) I love how direct you always are. If you could talk to the President, what would you say to the President about all of this stuff?”
Collinsworth: “I would say he should apologize. They’re not ‘SOBs.’ They’re smart, thoughtful guys. They really are. They’ve seen things that are unimaginable in some cases, and they want exactly what the President wants. They want a better America. Their version of how to get there is different than the President’s, I understand that, but I guarantee you – if the President invited, I could make a list of 10 guys, to the White House, and heard their stories, and heard their thoughts, and heard how concerned they are about America, they would find a common ground, and they would move this forward. I think an apology for the SOB comment right off the top would go a long way.” (Click here to watch Collinsworth’s comment).
Following Collinsworth’s comments, Football Night aired an interview with Raiders OL Donald Penn, who shared his thoughts on the President’s comments:
Penn: “It was very disheartening, President Trump’s comments, for him to supposed to be the leader of our country. Instead of trying to find ways to fix the problem, he’s always talking about the problem or the meaning of the problem. I just wish there was a better way that we could handle this and I think it’s just going to start a domino effect. I think it’s going to start a lot more protests, a lot more guys are going to start taking knees, a lot more guys are going to start sitting through the national anthem because he’s basically calling us out. I’m just really tired of all this stuff. It’s supposed to be more positive, helping the people in Puerto Rico and all these hurricanes. Talk about that stuff instead of talking about negative stuff.”
Tirico to Collinsworth: “He really forecast accurately what happened on many sidelines today. You spent a good part of your life in locker rooms – college, high school, pro – what was your reaction as you saw players next to each other, players from different parts of the world with different political opinions, standing arm-in-arm on sidelines around the country today?”
Collinsworth: “It was wonderful. It really was. The things that I’ll treasure more than anything when I get finished as a player, as a broadcaster, are that my eyes have been opened to things that I didn’t know about. I mean, we weren’t rich growing up. My parents were school teachers. But I’ve heard stories from players in the National Football League that literally take your breath away. I mean things that you can’t imagine, and I feel like I’ve gotten better because of it. My mind has been broadened because of it, and I really wish everybody had the chance to live a little while in the locker room.”
Michaels: “I think about the teams, because there’s a football game to be played, after we were all watching the reactions during the anthem, and the kneeling and the arm-in-arm…leave it to Mike Tomlin and Mike, I’ve always felt, was a little ahead of the other guys – he had his team in the locker room, because he didn’t want them to have to make a choice, whether they were going to protest, or kneel…he didn’t want his team to have to play politics.”
Tirico: “Whatever your opinions – you’re smart people at home – you can have your own opinions on all of these issues. But to watch everyone in the NFL in the leadership positions speak up – ownership, coaches, players – and for those who are associated with sports, it’s a reminder of how great sports can be sometimes.”
Coverage shifted from FedEx Field to Studio 1, where Patrick, Dungy, and Harrison discussed the President’s comments, and how players, coaches and owners responded on Sunday.
Dungy: “I was like Donald Penn. I was disappointed. My dad always used to tell me, ‘What are you going to do to make a situation better?’ And I didn’t feel the President’s comments made the situation better. When you paint a broad brush and say everybody is a certain way, all should be fired, all are unpatriotic, everybody that does this is an SOB, that’s just not right. We have young men who are great young men, patriots that decide to protest in a certain way. They have the best interests of this country at heart and to paint them all – that’s why the players are so angry, the owners, the coaches. I just thought it was inappropriate.”
Patrick: “(To Harrison) You were a leader in that Patriots locker room. If you were on that team now, and you’re deciding what to do on the sidelines, what do you say to your teammates?”
Harrison: “As a leader in that locker room, I would come to them and address them and say, ‘We need to stay together. We cannot allow anything beyond our control to separate us.’ I would also encourage them to use the platform to give their opinions, as long as it’s in a positive way. Use that platform, it’s a big platform. A lot of these guys, people respect them. They look up to them. We see the reception that Odell Beckham Jr., gets because he’s so popular. But also, there has to be a level of respect. In that locker room, you have so many guys with so many different political views, religious views. But if you have respect, and you respect one another, then all of a sudden, you go back to the root. What is the root? We have to win games, and take care of business.”
Football Night included footage of players and coaches around the league reacting to the President’s comments on Sunday. Click here to watch.
Dungy on Mike Tomlin’s decision to have the Steelers remain in the locker room during the national anthem: “I know Mike, and I know the emotion that he had, but that’s going on all over the league. Players, I’m sure, were very emotional in these team meetings, and Mike made a decision. How can I best protect my players as a group? And that’s what you have to do in these situations.”
Following those comments, Football Night aired Dungy’s interview with Stills and Thomas. Those interviews and a portion of the segment, which featured an interview with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, were conducted prior to comments made by President Trump on Friday night. Click here to watch the interview, followed by Dungy’s reaction.
Dungy: “Opening Day, in 2016, you guys and two other Dolphins made a decision to kneel for the national anthem. Take me back to how that started, what the thought process was.”
Thomas: “It started even before that day. That summer, just a bunch of different instances where there were unjust murders of young African-Americans, and I wanted to do something besides talk on social media about it. Right before the game, we’re going out there for the national anthem, going down the tunnel, I see (Dolphins owner Stephen Ross) walking into the locker room.”
Ross: “I asked them why they were doing it, and when you hear the why-ing and the caring that they have and knowing how they think they can make a difference and be heard, I think, how can one not really understand that and encourage it?”
Dungy: “Well, you knew you had your owner that had your back. What was the reaction from fans that you got?”
Thomas: “Everything from wishing injury upon us, ‘Tear your ACL,’ ‘Hope your family dies,’ ‘We hope you die,’ from death threats.”
Stills: “And friends and family. People that I thought loved me and respected me and kind of turned the cold shoulder to me. A lot of people just didn’t really understand what we were doing or why we were doing it. For me, it was more about change than anything. For these instances to continue to happen and no justice to be served. I think within the week we had the town hall meeting, where we had law enforcement, we had local high school coaches, people that are involved in the community, was able to speak with them and talk about what was going on and how we could create some change. And from there, that’s where we really got the idea for the ride along.”
Thomas: “When they actually saw the law officers in uniform coming out to them and they’re not harassing them, they’re not in trouble, they’re not arresting them or nothing, no, they’re like, ‘Oh, y’all playing basketball, what’s up?’ They’re trying to play basketball with them. They’re trying to play football with them.”
Stills: “I had a young girl, she was probably five or six years old, come up to me and she was confused on why we were with the police officers. And she told me, ‘Only time the police ever come was to arrest my dad.’ That was the opportunity that I had to tell her, ‘Hey, you have nothing to fear with the police officers. If you do right, they’re not going to come after you.’”
Dungy: “Now, you guys made a decision this year, the first game of the year, you didn’t kneel. Tell me what was behind that and what the thought process was.”
Stills: “For the most part, my decision not to kneel was just because I felt like it was so divisive and people were missing what we were doing and what we were trying to do.”
Thomas: “Before, every time you take a knee the only question you would get asked is about, ‘Are you going to continue to take a knee,’ ‘What’s going on with Kaepernick,’ ‘Are you mad that he hasn’t gotten a job yet?’ That’d be the only conversations you would have. But now, it’s like OK, you’re still giving back to your community in this way, you’re still keeping that conversation going without actually protesting. And that’s what has to happen.”
Dungy on his conversation with Stills and Thomas: “I came away feeling these guys are not unpatriotic SOBs. These are guys who care about their community, they care about their country, they want to do something positive. I talked to both guys last night and they said their teammates were very angry and they’re coming at them and they said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to keep this cool, we’ve got to be under control. Let’s stand together unified.’ But they didn’t know how it was going to go. I talked to them both this morning and as of nine o’clock this morning, everybody was going to stand unified. But they said there was a lot of emotion, a lot of energy, a lot of tension. And it didn’t turn out that way.”
Dungy on Stills’ decision to kneel during the national anthem on Sunday: “I asked Kenny (after the game) what changed and he sent me a text. He said, ‘Deep down inside, I did not want to allow the President to intimidate us or keep us from using our right to protest. We had a couple guys kneeling for the first time and we had our teammates all locked in arms. We were still all together and that’s powerful.’”
Patrick: “Where do we go from here? As players, owners, leagues, fans…”
Dungy: “Their owner, Stephen Ross, listened to those guys. What are your concerns? And they went forward with a plan, and got some things going. Crime rates decreased because of this ride-along that they had with the police. That’s what we’ve got to do going forward. We’ve got to listen to each other and go forward with a plan to make it better. That’s what leaders should do, including, in my opinion, our President.”
Dungy and Harrison concluded the program with final thoughts on reactions by players, coaches, and owners today.
Dungy: “My big winner today is the NFL. With all the distractions, we had some great football, great finishes, and I think the owners and players are closer than they’ve been in a long, long time.
Dungy: “There was a lot of passion, a lot of emotion and you look at these guys and their response – these are not unpatriotic men. They are men who care about their country, they care about their sport, they care about their neighborhoods. I think we’ve got to take a lesson from the two young men we featured in Miami. Make a difference, go forward, bring things together not push things apart. It’s a tough, tough time, but I think the NFL responded the right way today.”
Harrison: “I totally disagree with Mr. Trump and all of his comments. All I know is, I’ve been in this league a long time and I’ve been around a lot of guys who are businessmen, guys that love their families, guys that do things in the community. NFL players are good people. Do we make mistakes? Yes. But for him to judge us like that it’s just unfair.”
Florio on the three teams who have not spoken on President Trump’s comments: “Three teams in particular – Washington, Arizona and Dallas – they haven’t played yet this weekend and my understanding is each of those teams will have something to say. The only team that has had nothing to say through its owner is and will be the Panthers and owner Jerry Richardson.”
Florio on potential fines for the teams that remained in the locker room during the national anthem: “There is a rule requiring the players to be on the field for the anthem, and the league can fine them. I’m told that the expectation is that the football operations department at the NFL will not be fining the players. But if this continues, and teams decide we are going to stay inside, at some point the NFL is going to have to decide – do we get rid of the rule, or do we enforce it?”
Burmeister on decision by both teams to remain in locker rooms during national anthem: “I just got done talking to Pete Carroll about that. He said number one, he collaborated with Mike Mularkey about three or four hours before the game to do so in unison. He said the decision was player-driven by his side, and he described it as a classy way for the players to show their unhappiness.”
Dungy on Odell Beckham Jr.’s first touchdown celebration: “That’s awful. And I tell you what, don’t worry about Ben McAdoo. You’re going to be getting a call from your mom tonight.”
Harrison on Giants changing the momentum, now 0-3 this season: “I think it has to be a mindset. Their mindest is, ‘Oh, we don’t have Odell, we can’t win.’ But when Odell comes back, it’s ‘Odell, Odell, Odell.’ I think they have to get other guys involved, build that confidence. Brandon Marshall is a really good player, he’s been to the Pro Bowl a lot. Get him the ball. Build his confidence, and then you can work in other players.”
Harrison: “I look at the Patriots and I’m still seeing a lot of sloppy football. It seems like they depend on Tom Brady to bail them out.”
Harrison: “The thing that people don’t see – they sit back and they watch Mike Glennon and they say, ‘Well, he’s not very good.’ But really, if you think about it the offensive line and the defensive line, that’s really the strength of the Chicago Bears. John Fox has done a wonderful job of saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to run the ball. We’re going to take the ball out of Glennon’s hands and we’re going to pound these two different backs.’”
Harrison: “It’s always good to have two really good wide receivers making plays…when you look at Minnesota, the change in the offensive line, they’ve got four or five new starters, and you can tell. Nice clean pocket, a lot of confidence, and Dalvin Cook has been great for them.”
Dungy: “Jameis Winston wasn’t great. They’ve got a lot of weapons, a lot of toys, but what he’s got to do is be careful with the football…he wants to take chances. He wants to make plays, and this is where he’s going to have to get better if they’re going to be a playoff team. Very talented – got to take care of the ball.”
Dungy on the game’s conclusion: “It was the right call and almost one of those miracle Lions finishes. But in that situation your receivers have to get in the end zone. You can’t throw a ball in the field of play, or that could be what happens.”
Harrison: “The Packers know they don’t have a great defense, but in the fourth quarter they want to keep it close. They have a lot of confidence in all of their weapons. (Rodgers) is not afraid to throw it to a guy named Geronimo (Allison) in the closing moments…he has a lot of confidence in all of his weapons.”
–FOOTBALL NIGHT IN AMERICA–