Group of Browns players kneel, huddle together during national anthem

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(AP) —  A number of Cleveland Browns players knelt and huddled during the national anthem on Monday night before the preseason game against the New York Giants. Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Jabrill Peppers, Christian Kirksey, Seth DeValve, Jamie Collins, Kenny Britt, Ricardo Louis and Jamar Taylor were among the players who knelt together behind the team near the bench.

DeShone Kizer, Shon Coleman, Britton Colquitt and Jason McCourty were among players who stood with the group. Colquitt had his hand over his heart as he stood behind the group and pointed skyward at the anthem’s conclusion.

DeValve is the first white NFL player to join players in kneeling during the national anthem, according to Deadspin.

“As an organization, we have a profound respect for our country’s National Anthem, flag and the servicemen and servicewomen in the United States and abroad,” a Browns spokesman said in a statement at halftime. “We feel it’s important for our team to join in this great tradition and special moment of recognition, at the same time we also respect the great liberties afforded by our country, including the freedom of personal expression.”

NFL players have continued the national anthem protests made prominent last season by then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the anthem’s performance before games. Other players joined in the protests by kneeling or raising a fist.

This preseason, other players have taken up the protests, most prominently Seattle’s Michael Bennett, who has been sitting during the anthem. Teammate Justin Britt placed a hand on Bennett’s shoulder. Chris Long put his arm around Malcolm Jenkins, who has been raising his fist during the anthem dating back to last season. Khalil Mack and Derek Carr of the Raiders stood together, with Carr placing his hand on Mack’s back, during the national anthem recently, though both insisted there was nothing done in protest.

“What we wanted to do was show all the kids that look up to me, look up to him, that white kids, blue kids, brown kids, blue, green, doesn’t matter, can all be loving to each other,” Carr said, according to ESPN. “And that’s what me and Khalil are — we’re best friends and we love one another.

Kaepernick’s protest was originally in response to multiple incidents involving police shooting unarmed black men. The protests re-emerged following violent white supremacist demonstrations in Charlotesville, Virginia.

Browns head coach Hue Jackson came under fire last week when he said, in response to a question about the anthem protests, “I hope that wouldn’t happen here.”

Jackson read a prepared statement later in the week, clarifying his feelings on the anthem protests.

“Our players know that I have a great appreciation for every single one of them,” Jackson said. “I respect and support their right for peaceful protest; a right afforded to every American. We’ve always made it clear to our players that they should embrace the platform they have as an NFL player to improve our community and use their platform in a positive, thoughtful and respectful manner.

“I’m disheartened that I gave anyone that impression because I did not speak with enough clarity,” Jackson added. “However, my words did reflect my concern – that I would express to any player – about protesting during the anthem. There are many effective ways athletes can utilize their platform if they so desire, but I would respect any individual decision, as ultimately, it would be the player’s choice after much thoughtful dialogue.”