NEW YORK >> Civil rights activists protested outside NFL headquarters today, calling on team owners to overturn their new national anthem policy and urging a boycott of the league and its sponsors.
About 50 people gathered at the midtown Manhattan office building for a rally organized by National Action Network, a civil rights nonprofit.
Kirsten John Foy, the group’s northeast regional director, was the first of 10 speakers who took turns during the 40-minute demonstration to criticize NFL team owners and President Donald Trump.
“Our demand is that the NFL reverse that immoral and unconstitutional decision,” Foy said.
NFL owners voted Wednesday to require players to stand for the national anthem or stay in the locker room. Teams will be fined if players don’t stand. Some players have been kneeling during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games the last two seasons to protest police brutality and racial inequality.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the protest in 2016. He did not play last season after being unsigned as a free agent. He is suing the NFL and team owners for colluding to keep him out of the league.
National Action Network spokesman Alex Butcher-Nesbitt said the group planned to hold similar demonstrations around the country, including Detroit and Los Angeles.
The Rev. Charles Williams II, president of the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network, said if Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford and the team adhere to the anthem policy, “then they are doing nothing more than … standing with racism.”
In New York, Foy was joined by progressive talk radio host Mark Thompson, who wore a long shirt with a depiction of Kaepernick in his 49ers uniform taking a knee, and city councilman Jumaane Williams, who brought a Kaepernick No. 7 jersey to display after he spoke and wore a shirt with the slogan #IMWITHKAP across the front.
“I’m proud because I’m going to be on the right side of history,” Williams said. “I’m going to be standing and kneeling with Colin Kaepernick.”
Several speakers said supporters of Kaepernick and the protesting players should stop watching NFL games and no longer patronize companies that sponsor the league.
“You can’t inundate us with tens of millions of dollars in commercial ads and then strip the people that generate your money and your profits of their first amendment rights,” Foy said. “And if they choose to protest, they’ve got to stay in the locker room. So the locker room is the new slave shanty.”